Savage finds diamonds in the rough

January 18, 2001|By MIKE PRESTON

THERE ARE several story lines coming out of the Ravens' journey to Super Bowl XXXV.

There is the "win one for the Gipper" attitude that has gripped the team for owner Art Modell. There is the season of vindication for middle linebacker Ray Lewis and possible postseason awards for head coach Brian Billick and vice president Ozzie Newsome. And, there are possible promotions for defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and linebackers coach Jack Del Rio.

But the person to keep an eye on in the future is Phil Savage, the team's director of scouting. He hasn't gotten much recognition in the team's run for the championship, but Savage is well-respected around the league.

If Newsome is the architect of this team, then Savage is the man who draws up the blueprints. If Lewis is the designer of the monster defense, then Savage is one of the people who keep feeding him great players year after year.

Once a team reaches a certain level of success, other teams try to hire its top people. Teams will be calling for Savage soon.

The next step for him is to become a general manager or run the player personnel department, which Newsome currently handles for the Ravens. Newsome, 44, recently signed a three-year extension.

Unless something changes, he will eventually leave.

"Look at Marvin right now," said Newsome. "We've had success, and there are a number of teams interested in him. Obviously, Phil would like to be in a situation similar to the one I'm in now. I don't know how much longer we'll be able to keep him. I really don't know."

Savage is bright, intelligent and young. He is only 36 but apparently knows enough to have major influence with Newsome on No. 1 picks such as linebackers Peter Boulware and Lewis, cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks, and second-round selections Jamie Sharper, an outside linebacker, and strong safety Kim Herring.

The Ravens also have several first-round draft picks on offense, including Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden and rookies Jamal Lewis, a running back, and receiver Travis Taylor. The key, though, is finding picks in the later rounds who can contribute, such as outside linebacker Cornell Brown, center Jeff Mitchell, receiver Jermaine Lewis and guard Edwin Mulitalo

Newsome pulls the trigger on draft day, but Savage is the little voice inside his head.

Just how impressive is Savage?

When Newsome was looking for a director of scouting once the team moved to Baltimore in 1996, three of the team's top scouts, Ron Marciniak, Terry McDonough and Vince Newsome, recommended Savage for the job. Marciniak has been a scout for 18 years.

Savage was just 31.

"When your peers step forward, that's a pretty big statement," said Newsome. "The most impressive thing about Phil is his work ethic. It's excellent. He is tireless and very thorough in his preparation. There is a sheet that the last person out of the building has to sign, and when Phil is in town, he is always the last one out at around midnight."

Savage is on the road two-thirds of the year. His home is in Fairhope, Ala., and even when he stops in at the team's Owings Mills training camp, he stays at a nearby hotel. He is a nomad with a stopwatch and caliper.

His best friend is himself.

He eats with Phil. Talks with Phil. Plays cards with Phil and goes to the movies with Phil.

"To be honest, that's the biggest battle I fight," said Savage. "Most of my friends are on other teams, so you spend a great deal of time alone. Sometimes I get sick of myself. One personality gets mad at the other personality."

That's vintage Savage. He has a great sense of humor that can be filled with cynicism. That makes him even more appealing, especially with that southern drawl.

He usually has a story to tell.

"I was at Notre Dame once and it was after 9 p.m.," said Savage. "I was in the locker room and there was this guy vacuuming, but he didn't say anything like it was time to leave. Well, I left the locker room and fortunately I left the door slightly open.

"Well, you know how it is at Notre Dame. They got those big iron gates with those big Fred Flintstone padlocks on them, and I can't get out. I go around the entire stadium and they're all locked," said Savage. "I finally get into the area where they have Touchdown Jesus and I look up and say, `Not even he can help me now.' Fortunately, I got back into the locker room and called security. They sent a policeman on a bicycle to let me out."

Savage is in his ninth season of scouting, having started his coaching career at age 21 under coach Bill Curry at Alabama. He and Newsome previously worked as assistant coaches on the same staff in Cleveland.

They have a deep, mutual respect for each other even when they bump heads over draft picks. But most of the time, they agree.

"One thing I have learned from him is to be patient," said Savage, "especially when it comes to developing a player who might be in his second or third year. Ozzie has a great knack of knowing when to hold off."

But Savage won't have to wait much longer for his next job. A general manager's title is next.

"He is outstanding," said Modell. "He is one of the best talent sleuths in the college ranks, and he has proven it over and over again. He is young, but he has a good taste for things. I think I'm going to lock him up every night so he can't get out to take another job.

"But he'll get his chance for an Ozzie-type job," said Modell. "We rank him very high in this organization and a lot of the things he says on draft day come true. When you go to a Super Bowl, people raid your teams for your quality people. If it's a meaningful promotion, we'll let Phil go just as we will with Marvin."

It's only a matter of time.

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