Wrong before, Browns should look to Savage

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December 05, 2004|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

Before the Cleveland Browns pick a successor to departed coach Butch Davis, their first order of business will be to find a general manager with big-picture direction and franchise-building qualifications.

There are any number of candidates, but the best -- and most qualified -- is Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end with the Browns.

Because that's not going to happen -- can you imagine Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti allowing Newsome to escape to one of the team's most bitter division rivals? -- the next-best choice would be Newsome's right-hand man, Phil Savage, the team's director of player personnel.

The competence of Newsome and Savage is the biggest reason the Ravens were able to reload so soon after the Super Bowl championship and roster purge.

The Browns don't always recognize what they've got in front of them, though. At the end of the 2000 season, they talked with Marvin Lewis, then the Ravens' defensive coordinator, about replacing fired Chris Palmer. Davis, who earlier rejected Cleveland overtures, changed his mind during Super Bowl week, and the Browns chose him instead.

Lewis eventually landed in Cincinnati, where the Bengals figure to become a playoff regular a lot sooner than the rebuilt Browns will.

Temporary duty

These are the facts facing interim Browns coach Terry Robiskie: In the past 20 years, 25 coaches took over a team at midseason. Those interim coaches had a collective record of 10-15 in their first game on the job. They also had a record of 49-106 for their first -- and often only -- season.

Robiskie, who also was interim coach with the Washington Redskins for three games in 2000, knows he shouldn't get comfortable in his new position.

1981 revisited

The wretched 1981 Baltimore Colts defense, which allowed an NFL-record 6,793 yards, is getting company again. With five games left, the New Orleans Saints are on pace to surrender 6,693 yards.

The Colts gave up an average of 424.6 yards per game. The Saints are allowing 418.3. The Colts should keep the dubious record, though, because the Saints have only one team -- the Atlanta Falcons -- with a winning record left on their schedule.

Tough calls

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice knows he can't afford to fumble away another playoff bid this year. Last week, in a concession to the obvious, he benched running back Michael Bennett and put overrated defensive tackle Chris Hovan on the inactive list. The Vikings beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-16, to hold their share of the NFC North lead.

Hovan, a former No. 1 draft pick, lost his starting job two weeks ago to undrafted rookie Spencer Johnson. Bennett gave up his starting job to Onterrio Smith.

"It's tough on me," Tice said of those decisions. "I don't like to do it. But guys who make the most plays have got to be on the field. Guys who don't make the most plays have to be sitting next to me on the sidelines."

Revolving door

Arizona coach Dennis Green gave Josh McCown nine games (and four wins) as the Cardinals starting quarterback. He gave Shaun King two. Now it's seventh-round draft choice John Navarre's turn against the Detroit Lions today.

"I think Shaun had a chance the last couple weeks," Green said. "Quick hook? Yep. Tough business. And you don't have to apologize for it being a tough business. Josh has been the No. 1 guy for a long time. Has it worked out? Sometimes it has, sometimes it hasn't."

Trade update

This just in from the Clinton Portis-for-Champ Bailey trade: Denver's Reuben Droughns, a blocking back at the start of the season, has out-rushed Portis, the running back the Broncos traded to Washington, by 1 yard, 946-945.

And Bailey, the highest-paid cornerback in the league, got burned deep by the Oakland Raiders in the Broncos' loss last week.

Audibles

In Pittsburgh's new unbalanced offense, the Steelers are running the ball 61.6 percent of their plays, most in the league. Here's why the trend has become so lopsided: Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked only five times in his first five starts, but he's been dumped 15 times in the past four games. ... The Broncos are just 14-14 in November and December the past four seasons. ... Kickoff temperature for the St. Louis Rams' game in Green Bay on Monday was 28 degrees. That's the coldest game the Rams have played since moving to St. Louis in 1995. ... Paul Wiggin, director of pro scouting for the Vikings, on new Chicago Bears quarterback Jeff George: "I coached John Elway, and I think [George] might be the best passer I've ever seen. I know he has the quickest release."

Final word

Credibility apparently was an issue that separated Butch Davis from his players. Wide receiver Quincy Morgan, whom Davis traded this season to Dallas, had this to say about his former coach:

"It was little things, the way he treated guys. He just wasn't upfront with a lot of guys. You can go talk to him and he'll tell you one thing, and behind your back, it's another."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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