PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM COACH AND OWNER
Paul Brown was the most innovative coach in the history of American football. In his long coaching career, Brown successfully led three of the most famous teams at their respective levels of play to championships—Massillon High School of Massillon, Ohio; Ohio State University; the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League.
When Paul Brown was born in 1908, American football was in its infancy. The game was slowly building in popularity in a number of American universities at that time, but the game was intensely physical, characterized by ferocious line play. The forward pass was only legalized in American college football in 1909.
Brown was one of those intelligent athletes who recognized at an early stage of their career that their true talent for the sport lay in the directing of the operation, as opposed to playing a leading role. Brown was a high school quarterback at Massillon High School, where he graduated in 1926. He entered Miami of Ohio University that year, where he played quarterback but took more serious steps to solidify his dream of becoming a successful football coach.
Brown's first head coaching post was at his high school alma mater, Massillon. High school football was beginning to acquire a significant athletic status in the small towns of America, particularly in Ohio, the state that was in many respects the cradle of modern football. From 1932 to 1940, Brown led the Tigers of Massillon to a remarkable 59 win, 1 loss record, building the Massillon program into the most feared opponent in Ohio. Massillon drew over 22,000 fans to their home games, and the revenues from football helped Massillon High School build a state of the art swimming pool and observatory.
The coaching career of Brown at Massillon alone would be a proud achievement for most football coaches. It was to the undoubted relief of the Ohio high school coaching fraternity that Brown accepted the head coaching position at Ohio State University in 1940.
Brown worked his magic at Ohio State with the same speed and success as he had brought to Massillon. In 1942, Ohio State were named national champions, and it appeared that the Brown legend would grow indefinitely in the collegiate football ranks.
The national military draft and World War II altered the path of Brown's coaching career, when Brown was drafted into the United States Navy in 1942. Brown was stationed as a lieutenant at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, outside Chicago. There he initiated a football program, making contact with a number of service personnel with whom he would be reunited after the war.
In 1946, the city of Cleveland, Ohio, had been awarded one of eight franchises in the newly created professional football league, the All-America Football Conference, (AAFC). Paul Brown assumed the roles of part owner, general manager, and head coach for the new Cleveland Browns. Brown sought players who would be a proper fit into the tough, disciplined systems he planned to implement. He intentionally sought obscure players at many positions, but chose quarterback Otto Graham, known as Automatic Otto, whom Brown knew from his military service experience.
In their inaugural season the Cleveland Browns won their first five games by a combined score of 142-20. They finished with a record of 12-2 for the 1946 season, winning the first AAFC Championship over New York at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Brown coached Cleveland to championships in each of the next three seasons, as the Browns became the preeminent franchise in the AAFC.
In 1950, the National Football League (NFL) took the Browns into the NFL (along with the Baltimore Colts and the San Francisco 49ers). It was the end of AAFC, and the beginning of the most successful phase of Brown's coaching career. The Commissioner of the National Football League, Bert Bell, was eager to exploit the marketing power of a season opening match up between the defending champions of the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the defunct AAFCs best, the Browns. The game was dismissed as being important by the Eagles head coach, Earl (Greasy) Neale, who publicly proclaimed that the Browns were an inferior product from an inferior league.
In a game that illustrated the brilliance of Brown and his coaching approach to football, the Browns dominated their first NFL contest, demolishing the Eagles by a score of 35-10. The Browns's precision passing game, sparked by the future Hall of Famer Graham, was a textbook display of both ball control and big play capability. The Browns, and Brown, gained instant credibility in the NFL.
The Browns drive to ascendancy in the NFL ended with their victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950 title game. The Browns would go on to win titles in 1954 and 1955, a powerhouse team that had Graham as a threat both as a runner and passer, the 250 lb fullback Marion Motley pounding the ball on the ground, and a disciplined, rock ribbed defense that played Brown's intense and intelligent brand of football.
As with most great sports innovators, Brown's contributions to the science of football coaching were rooted in his personal experience. Brown was a teacher at heart, and he demanded of his players a scholarly approach to the tough and sometimes brutal physicality of professional football. When Brown introduced his methods to the Browns of the AAFC, he was regarded as a coaching revolutionary. When his players arrived for their first practice of the season, he handed out notebooks and made each player write their individual assignments for each play. Brown insisted that they commit each formation to memory.
Brown is unquestionably the single greatest influence on the modern day approaches to football coaching. By 1950, he was organizing the filming of his upcoming opponents and then breaking down and analyzing the game film, to better develop his formalized game plans. Brown used intricate diagrams of pass patterns, and he invented the scheme whereby an offensive guard was substituted on each play to deliver plays to the quarterback. Brown was constantly following technological developments that might aid his ability to direct a team-the current helmet mounted ear pieces that coaches use to talk to their quarterbacks during stoppages in play is a also brainchild of Paul Brown. Brown was also a contributor to the design of the modern facemask, developed by his equipment manager in the late 1940s.
Brown achieved his coaching success with a military rigor. His players were expected to study their detailed playbooks nightly. Brown saw professional football as an extension of the classroom, no different than those he had supervised at Massillon High School or at the Great Lakes Naval Academy.
Brown developed an incredibly complex offensive system, and he possessed in Otto Graham a quarterback with the intelligence and physical skills to implement the system to its fullest extent. In contrast to the tight formations employed until the Browns came into existence, coach Brown opened up the field, spreading his receivers and creating gaps in the defensive coverages. Brown's pyramidical system was so precise that he needed capable assistants to aid in its implementation. Brown was the first coach to develop the concept of a full fledged coaching staff.
Paul Brown would not suffer a losing season in Cleveland until 1956. The Browns poor record permitted Brown to select the highly coveted Syracuse fullback Jim Brown in the NFL draft in 1957. Jim Brown quickly established himself as the best offensive player in the NFL, but he and coach Brown never could entirely agree on how Jim Brown should be utilized.
In 1961 an aggressive advertising executive named Art Modell bought the Cleveland Browns for $4 million. Modell saw Jim Brown as a marketable commodity, and sought to promote him beyond the football field, contrary to the views of Paul Brown, who wanted a tight football ship run without distractions.
In 1962, Paul Brown traded future Hall of Fame player Bobby Mitchell to the Washington Redskins without Modell's permission. Modell, angered over being left out of the Mitchell trade process, ultimately fired Paul Brown in 1962.
Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Canton in 1967, located a few miles from Brown's birthplace. He became the only Hall of Fame coach to return to coaching after his Hall of Fame induction when he assumed the positions head coach and part owner of the expansion Cincinnati Bengals in 1967. Brown remained as the Bengals coach for six seasons, retiring for good in 1973.
More than a pioneer or an innovator, who sowed the seeds of coaching ideas that were better cultivated by others, Brown was a brilliant football mind, and he is a coach who is one of the greatest in the history of the sport, regardless of era.