Tag:Randy Learner
Posted on: December 29, 2008 9:03 am
Edited on: December 29, 2008 9:18 am

A Savage Mistake

With every relationship, there eventually comes a time to say goodbye.

For the Browns and General Manager Phil Savage, that time came yesterday.

Call this move whatever you want, but don't call it unexpected. Randy Learner is a man greatly concerned with public image, and Phil Savage happened to give him every reason to pull the trigger. The Staphgate '08 controversy and the Buffalo e-mail incident compounded with the team's collapse this season all but secured his departure.

Despite this you wonder: was this the right move for the Browns?

Of course not.

In a season marred with futility and incompetency, Randy Learner began this offseason with just that. Firing Phil Savage was a move with Learner's fingerprints all over it. Like his former employee, Learner seems to only concern himself with how people perceive him as an owner. Retaining a general manager and head coaching tandem after such a season would have taken resolve and commitment to building a winning football program. In a Browns' Town that lives week to week with this organization, it would be nearly impossible to do so without being viewed in a negative light.

In this business, perception is reality. On the surface the Browns are the 5th worst team in the NFL. On the surface they are a team headed in the wrong direction after barely missing the playoffs in 2007. On the surface, Phil Savage is an arrogant man who put together a disappointing football program.

All of these things are simply not true.

Savage made the correct moves in assembling the 2008 Browns. The offensive unit remained in tact while the defense improved with the additions of Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. The young defensive back tandem of Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald started off shaky, but they finished strong and Cleveland now may have found its franchise cornerbacks because of it. People questioned Savage as to whether keeping two capable quarterbacks was a good decision. The Browns not only lost them both, but a third as well.

Look, I'm not saying Phil Savage was the perfect manger. Public relations management is part of his job, and he proved himself irresponsible to that regard. What I am saying is Savage was a great General Manager - balancing short and long term gains in bringing a winner to Cleveland. His creative ability to balance free agency and the draft proved highly innovative, and had the Browns moving in the right direction. His scouting ability to assess and evaluate professional talent ranks in the upper echelon of GMs. His vision and decision making ability gave Browns fans hope for a better future.

It's a shame this move was made.

"Go turn around Detroit - we'll miss you."
Posted on: December 22, 2008 3:04 pm

Browns Cannot Afford to Lose

"Hey Mike, feel like going to the game this Sunday?" I asked my friend.

After seconds of deliberation, he responded.

"Nah. The Browns suck right now, so there really wouldn't be any reason to go."
This response wouldn't have been anything out of the ordinary except what came after it.

"Plus, why should we blow 75 bucks to watch this team?"

I thought about what he said, and it made sense. There is no convincing reason why Clevelanders or any other group of suffering fans should pay money to attend football games.

Everybody knows the economy is suffering right now. We live in an era where disposable income is at an all-time low and frustration is at an all-time high. There are very few dollars to go around - and the entertainment industry will undoubtedly suffer because of it. While professional football generates billions of dollars in revenue, entertainment monsters such as the NFL have already begun to feel the effects of a sluggish market. With less cash to spend, people will be more selective of how they spend it on entertainment.

And right now, the Cleveland Browns are not very entertaining.

Do the math. If people have less money to spend on entertainment and the Browns do not provide an entertaining product, people will not spend money to see the Browns. It was either CBS writer Pete Prisco or Ray Rato that wrote a column some time ago about the economy's effect on the National Football League. Since this season's ticket sales were based on last year's results, things like paid attendance do not provide an accurate representation of how many people actually spent money to see the game.

Browns fans' are supposedly one of the most loyal fanbases in professional sports. During the team's expansion years, fans constantly sold out the stadium regardless of how poorly the team played. From the numbers alone, you would be hard pressed to tell whether the 2004 Browns were 4-12 or 12-4. If last Sunday's 14-0 shutout courtesy of the hapless Bengals is any indication, times may be changing for the worst.

Loyalty means nothing without the money to support it. Blue-collar towns like Cleveland and Detroit will undeniably feel the strain of a poor economy before more affluent NFL cities. Bad football not only discourages fans of a particular city, but leads to poor franchise perception which in turn costs the organization additional profit.

Cleveland Browns' owner Randy Learner is widely known as one of the most shrewd businessmen in professional sports. His ventures in England with European football clubs only serve as testament to that very fact. As a businessman, one thing Learner understands is the necessity of appeasing his clients. When he conducts his January evaluation of GM Phil Savage and Head Coach Romeo Crennel, the down-trodden economy will most likely weigh heavily into his decision.

Since Randy is making the decision with his clients in mind, expect a certain bias to come with his choice. Making a splash with a celebrity head coach or general manger will generate excitement and hopefully revenue for Learner's Browns. Regardless of how capable a coach or good a fit as he is, if that person can generate publicity and increase Learner's financial gain - expect that person to be heavily favored.

The NFL is more than just football. When evaluating players, factors such as earnings potential, public perception and marketability are just as important as 40-yard dash times and bench press repetitions. This is precisely why Cleveland gave up so much for Brady Quinn. While his prowess on the football field is still in question, he has already captured the hearts and imaginations of fans without proving very much on the field. That success equates to jersey sales, ticket sales, and ultimately to an increase in earnings.

The Browns are a team in dire need of success. The economic conditions facing the country only serve to expedite the need to field a winning football team. For a business-inclined owner like Learner, the allure of profit may overtake the best interests of the team sooner rather than later.

And that scares me to death as a Cleveland Browns fan.
Category: NFL
Posted on: November 25, 2008 3:36 pm
Edited on: November 25, 2008 3:58 pm

Randy Learner Speaks Up

Cleveland Browns owner Randy Learner addressed some of his concerns regarding Phil Savage, Romeo Crennel, and the state of the team.

Learner said many interesting things - some good and some bad. Here are his statements and the possible implications behind their meanings...

Learner: "I will take issues and concerns and criticisms very seriously and think them through and evaluate them in January."

Analysis: Whose issues, concerns and criticisms is Learner referring to? The fans. Randy Learner cares deeply what the fans think. Learner isn't dumb. He is in the business of making money, and the Cleveland Browns fans are the ones that fuel that engine. All issues relating to the Browns will be dealt with in January, so Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage will keep their jobs until the season is over.

Learner: "I think that Phil recruits as aggressively as anybody could ask a guy to do and as thoroughly as anybody could ask a guy to do. I think we've been a beneficiary of those skills and that determination and commitment."

Analysis: Phil Savage's job will most likely be secure at the end of the season. Learner expressed his understanding of Savage's tremendous hard work and attributes as a general manager. Savage has done a good job putting this team together, and Learner's compliment seems to indicate Savage is not part of the problem. The use of the word "commitment" is key in suggesting the Browns will retain Phil Savage.

Learner: "I care about the team."

Analysis: "I care about the money."

Learner: "When I reflect on that concern and criticism, it's a byproduct of the management approach I've chosen. If you're going to give people authority and hold them responsible and ultimately accountable for their performance, you've got to get out of the way. Especially when they have unique skills you don't have like picking players and coaching."

Analysis: We are fortunate as Browns fans to have an owner who understands exactly what his role is in the organization. Learner is right - he doesn't have the unique skills of picking players or coaching the team. Leaving the football to the football people is exactly what the owner of any NFL team should do. Learner's reference to accountability of performance is a direct shot at Romeo Crennel. Unlike Savage, Crennel's performance is measured by something as tangible as a win/loss record. As many have already imagined, Romeo Crennel is in deep trouble.

Learner: I'm not prepared to throw in the towel at 46 and suggest I can't get the job done. On the other hand, I don't want to live in some delusional bubble somewhere."

Analysis: Learner will continue to do his best to bring a championship to the Browns. The team isn't going anywhere. The reference to the delusional bubble means Learner has an idea of what's being said about his football team as well as his approach as a "hands off" owner.

Learner: Sunday's home loss to the Texans was "sickening"

Analysis: Yikes! That's certainly a strong choice of words for such an anemic offensive output. Learner could be referencing Crennel's decision to bench Brady Quinn and play Derek Anderson in the fourth quarter. There has been speculation Learner has always liked Quinn - and played a role in Quinn's promotion as a starter. If this is the case, Romeo Crennel may be already be gone.

Learner: "What happened? How do you go 10-6, play good football, have the NFL generally excited, get six prime-time appearances...how does that happen and you struggle this way?"

Analysis: Randy Learner has the football intelligence of a casual fan. He is only able see the result of what has happened, and most likely will make decisions based off that. From his point of view it's easy to understand where he's coming from. The Browns won 10 games, improved along the defensive line (which he can clearly see with Shaun Rogers' play), and seemed likely to improve once more. What Learner does not understand is the Browns played a soft schedule last year, fell victim to injuries, and played a significantly more difficult schedule this year.

Learner expressed concern with the credibility issues that arose from the e-mail and Winslow situations, as well as the organization's image on a national scale.

Analysis: Randy cares about public perception more than anything else. His previous comment about the NFL being "generally excited" and getting "six prime-time appearances" reaffirm that. Public opinion and perception indicated the Browns should start Brady Quinn and look what happened. Now, public perception states the Browns should fire Savage and Crennel. Sadly, I can already see whom Learner may target...

I'm glad Randy Learner spoke up regarding the state of his franchise. While I disagree with some of the sentiment he echoed, I do appreciate him being forthright with the media. If I had to make a prediction on what this means for Browns' management, I'd imagine...

Phil Savage has a 70% chance of staying in 2009.
Romeo Crennel has an 15% chance of staying in 2009.

...and for what it's worth, Bill Cowher has a 30% chance of coming to the Browns in 2009.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com