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Browns get savvy GM in Savage

Phil Savage was hired as general manager of the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, inheriting one the NFL's least talented teams desperate for someone to fix years of errors in free agency and the draft.

Savage spent the past two seasons as the Baltimore Ravens' director of player personnel.

"Cleveland is better today because of Phil Savage," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, once considered the frontrunner for the Browns job. "They will now have someone that really knows what type of players it takes to play in this league."

The Browns are coming off a disastrous 4-12 season that included a nine-game losing streak and coach Butch Davis' resignation on Nov. 30.

Savage has made a name for himself in the league as an astute talent evaluator with a succession of quality drafts that eventually led the Ravens to a Super Bowl title after the 2000 season.

In 1996, Savage used two first-round picks to select offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis, who have gone to a combined 15 Pro Bowls. In all, Savage and Newsome picked 10 Pro Bowlers in nine years.

Meanwhile, the Browns' record on draft day has been abysmal with first-round picks Tim Couch (No. 1, 1999), Courtney Brown (No. 1, 2000), Gerard Warren (No. 3, 2001), William Green (No. 16, 2002), Jeff Faine (No. 21, 2003) and Kellen Winslow (No. 6, 2004) all failing to meet expectations.

NINERS: San Francisco received permission from New England to interview defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel for its head coaching vacancy.

RAVENS: Soon after bidding farewell to top scout Phil Savage, the team launched its search for a new offensive coordinator by interviewing former Washington Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel.

The Ravens are seeking a successor for Matt Cavanaugh, who ran the offense for six years before leaving Monday in what coach Brian Billick termed "a mutual decision." Baltimore (9-7) ranked 31st among 32 NFL teams in offense this season.

TITANS: Quarterback Billy Volek will have surgery today to repair his severely separated throwing shoulder, injured in the 24-19 victory over Detroit on Sunday. It will take Volek three to four months to recover.

OBITUARY: Robert "Texas Bob" Smith, a running back who helped the Detroit Lions win the 1953 NFL championship, died Wednesday in Dallas following a brief illness. He was 74. Mr. Smith, a fullback who played in the backfield with Hall of Famer Doak Walker, was an Air Force lieutenant during the Korean War before joining the Lions in 1953.