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Browns' Savage goes from wide-eyed spectator to NFL GM

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) _ Phil Savage got an early lesson in scouting NFL prospects when he watched a Senior Bowl practice with his elementary school classmates and spotted a little-known receiver from Alabama A&M.

Everyone was like, `Who's that guy making all those catches?''' recalled Savage, now the general manager of the Cleveland Browns.I was like, `I don't know, some guy named John Stallworth.'''

Stallworth went on to star with the Pittsburgh Steelers and make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Savage has gone from wide-eyed kid to the man in charge of rebuilding the Browns, from watching the NFL big shots and future big shots at his hometown of Mobile every year to being one of them.

The 39-year-old Savage, hired as GM on Jan. 6, has been busy scouting players, meeting with his staff and visiting with old friends who show up at Senior Bowl practices and events. He's also been handed plenty of resumes from people seeking NFL jobs, but his most important hiring decision won't be made at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

He has interviewed New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel for the team's vacant coaching position, but Crennel is busy preparing the Patriots for the Super Bowl against Philadelphia.

Obviously we're waiting until after the Super Bowl,'' Savage said.Thankfully, we made it clear at the beginning of this process we were willing to wait if we felt like the right coach was not going to be available until that time. We're holding steady.

``I think we feel good about where we are. We feel like we did a thorough search.''

The No. 2 priority is preparing for the upcoming draft, Savage's forte during his nine seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, the past two as the club's director of player personnel. Through the draft, he helped the Ravens build a roster with Pro Bowl players such as Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis.

It's going to be very important,'' Savage said.If we can string some solid decisions together, then it's going to build confidence within the entire organization.''

The Senior Bowl is part of that process. Savage, who began his NFL career with the Browns as a coach's assistant breaking down film and making copies, estimates he's been to every one of the Senior Bowl games since 1971.

What makes me feel good is a lot of people I've seen down here this year are a lot of the same people I saw 10-12 years ago,'' he said.Their feeling is that I haven't changed and still have a friendly smile and handshake for them in 2005 just as I did in 1992.''

He also tries not to snub strangers who approach him about jobs now that he's a general manager.

I can appreciate the fact that this time of year is uncertain for a lot of people,'' Savage said.I have empathy for guys that are out of jobs right now. We all want to be gainfully employed. I'm not offended by that at all.

``In some ways, I feel it's somewhat my obligation to shake hands or accept resumes or whatever, because you never know.''

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