TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Phil Savage helped Nick Saban 20 years ago, breaking down film and performing countless other tasks for the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator.
His career took off when coach Bill Belichick moved him into a job scouting and evaluating players, something Savage still does even though he really doesn't have to.
Savage took over as executive director of the Senior Bowl in his Mobile hometown in May. He still works as the top-ranked Crimson Tide's color analyst but spends much of his time traveling to various schools and drawing up scouting reports on various NFL prospects.
It's what he loves, and he's awfully good at it, according to Saban.
"Of all the guys that I've ever had that help me, and there's a bunch of good ones, I don't know anybody that was more effective as a helper," the Alabama coach said. "I don't even know what his title was, but he worked with me. I've never had anybody do a better job at what they did than he did there for us.
"He worked extremely hard. I couldn't have done what I did to coach the secondary and be the coordinator without him. He had a tremendous knack for personnel evaluation, which I think Bill Belichick saw. Instead of moving him in the coaching realm, which I think he would have been really good at, he moved him into personnel. He moved up very rapidly in that. I think he's one of the best personnel people in the game."
Now, the 47-year-old Savage is scouting at practices and games to offer prospects a sort of roving job fair and generate season-long interest in the Senior Bowl. No franchise's fortunes hinge on his evaluations, which are posted on the game's Web site, these days.
"It's something that I do enjoy doing," Savage said before a recent Alabama game. "I felt like that the Senior Bowl has been an event that kind of wakes up at the end of January and kind of goes back to sleep again after the game. I'm like, we need to run our calendar concurrent to the NFL draft. We're an important step in that process."
Savage certainly has the pedigree. He was a graduate assistant under Bill Curry at Alabama before working as a defensive assistant under Saban.
Savage rose up the ranks with the Ravens under general manager and ex-Alabama and NFL star Ozzie Newsome before taking the GM job in Cleveland from 2005 until 2008, when he and coach Romeo Crennel were fired. Savage spent the last couple of years working with the Philadelphia Eagles in player personnel before taking over the Senior Bowl, a January showcase for senior NFL prospects.
"It's a great marriage where they have someone with such tremendous roots in scouting and the Mobile community," Eagles GM Howie Roseman said. "From an NFL perspective, and certainly from a Philadelphia Eagles perspective, it's a great thing."
The Senior Bowl is already an event that draws many of the NFL's head coaches and general managers for a few days of practice.
Newsome likes having someone leading the Senior Bowl "that walked in my shoes."
"He understands what the Senior Bowl means to that city and to the people of Mobile," he said. "He's coached in the game. He's scouted the game when he was a scout with us and when he was GM in Cleveland. He's seen every aspect of it other than just being a player in the game. He has a very good understanding of the game, the importance of the game, to the city of Mobile, to the players playing in it and also to all of us who have to come down there and evaluate it.Comment on this story
"He understands the needs of everyone."
Savage's reports are admittedly kinder and gentler since he's only investing time not millions of dollars. On a recent week, he visited Miami, Ohio Monday, Ohio State Tuesday and Marshall Wednesday.
He has managed to merge two popular sports, college and pro football, not to mention the NFL draft.
"When you think about the merging of the two, you're talking about the two most popular sports in America basically, merging at the Senior Bowl because we are a bridge from college to pro," Savage said. "That's exciting to me to even be part of that."