Brown, Paul Eugene
BROWN, Paul Eugene
(b. 7 September 1908 in Norwalk, Ohio; d. 5 August 1991 in Indian Hill, Ohio), successful and innovative football coach at the high school, college, and professional levels.
Brown was one of two children of Lester Brown, a railroad dispatcher, and Ida Sherwood Brown, a homemaker. When he was nine years old, the family moved to Massillon, Ohio, where Brown developed a keen interest in football. Despite his enthusiasm, his father refused to allow the twelve-year-old, ninety-six-pound boy to attend a summer football camp sponsored by the local Washington High School team. Brown remained in bed for three days and refused to eat until his father relented. Later, as a student at Washington High (familiarly known as Massillon), the under-sized Brown worked his way up to the starting quarterback position and learned as much about football as he could under his coach, Dave Stewart.
After graduating in 1926, Brown attended Ohio State University, where he hoped to play big-time football. He was too small to compete successfully at Ohio State, so he transferred to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, when he had completed his freshman year. After sitting out a year because of his transfer, Brown was a capable, but not an extraordinary, quarterback for the Miami Redskins during two successful seasons. In 1929 he married Kathryn Jean Kester, with whom he would have three sons. He received a B.A. in education from Miami the following year and took a job as a teacher and the head football coach at Severn School, a college-prep school in Severn, Maryland.
During the 1930 and 1931 seasons, Brown's Severn Prep teams lost only one game. He was disappointed, however, by what he perceived as the school's lack of total commitment to athletics. He returned to Massillon in 1932 as a teacher and the head football coach, taking over a team that had won only two games the previous season. Brown proceeded to build the most successful high school football program in the nation by the end of the decade. As coach and athletic director (1933), he was a meticulous organizer who managed the athletic program down to the last detail. This would become his trademark wherever he coached. He was also an innovator, introducing the use of the play-book and game films as teaching aids. From 1935 to 1940 Brown's Massillon Tigers compiled a 58–1–1 record, including five 10–0 seasons. Brown continued to innovate, scouting opponents' games to formulate game plans and sending in plays by using hand signals to call plays from the sideline. His teams were so successful that in 1939 the school constructed a 21,000-seat stadium to accommodate their fans. By 1940 Massillon was averaging 18,000 fans for its home games—more than any college in the state except for Ohio State. In 1941, after amassing an 80–8–2 record, including six state championships and four national championships, Brown accepted an offer to become the head football coach at Ohio State, where he had received an M.A. in education the year before.
At age thirty-three Brown became the youngest coach in the Big Ten Conference and inherited a team that had ended the previous season with a 40–0 loss to their arch-rival, Michigan. Brown recruited effectively, installed his program, and led the team to a 6–1–1 record, including a tie with Michigan. The Ohio Buckeyes finished the 1942 season with a 9–1 record and their first national championship. Because of a World War II military rule that required army-affiliated schools, such as Ohio State, to disqualify athletes over the age of eighteen, the "Baby" Buckeyes were outmanned in most games in 1943 and posted a 3–6 record. Brown's college coaching career ended with an 18–8–1 record. He was commissioned lieutenant junior-grade in the U.S. Navy in 1944 and assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, where he became head football coach. In two seasons at Great Lakes his teams had a 15–5–2 record, including a highly publicized upset victory over Notre Dame, which was vying for a national championship.
In 1945 the sportswriter Arch Ward of the Chicago Tribune organized the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) to challenge the National Football League (NFL). Businessman Arthur McBride hired Brown to coach the Cleveland franchise, which was named the Browns after its coach. At the time of his signing, Brown remarked, "You know me, I'm going to build a football dynasty in Cleveland." When he was discharged from the navy in 1946, Brown put together a powerful team, signing a number of players he had coached at Ohio State and Great Lakes. He made an important contribution to pro football, being the second post–World War II coach to sign African-American players, including Bill Willis, Marion Motley (both 1946), and Horace Gillom (1947). "I wanted to get the best possible players for our team," Brown stated in 1950. "That Motley, Gillom, and Willis are Negroes is incidental. But, honestly now, if people of different colors can fight together to win a war, why shouldn't they play football together?"
The balding, 160-pound coach was an intense, rigid taskmaster and rugged disciplinarian. In his first season with Cleveland, Brown fired tackle Jim Daniell, who had been his team captain at Ohio State, for breaking training. Led by fullback Motley and quarterback Otto Graham, the Browns dominated the AAFC in the four years it existed and won the championship each season, posting a final record of 47–4–3.
Following the demise of the AAFC at the end of the 1949 season, the Browns and two other AAFC teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Colts, joined the NFL. Most commentators considered the former AAFC teams inferior to their NFL counterparts. In an apparent effort to embarrass the Browns, NFL officials scheduled Cleveland against the 1949 champion Philadelphia Eagles to open the 1950 season. Before 71,000 fans in Philadelphia, the Browns defeated the Eagles 35–10 in a stunningly easy upset and went on to win the 1950 NFL championship. Cleveland won two more NFL championships under Brown (1954 and 1955) and was runner-up in four (1951, 1952, 1953, and 1957). Brown's overall NFL record with Cleveland was 120–49–5.
Brown was the most innovative coach in pro football history, essentially shaping the modern style of training and play in the NFL. He was the first coach to scout colleges for talent, employ his coaching staff year-round, use play-books, make systematic use of game films, and provide classroom instruction. Brown created the draw play, the four-man defensive line, and the two-minute drill, and he insisted that his players dress and act professionally. After quarterback Otto Graham was hit in the mouth during a game with San Francisco in the 1950s, Brown invented the face mask, receiving royalties for seventeen years for his design. He later recalled, "I made more money from that than from what I was doing in football." When asked in the early 1980s about his many innovations, Brown replied simply, "They just evolved. That's my nature; I watch and look, and things just evolve."
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Brown continued to produce winning teams in Cleveland but failed to return to the NFL championship game, despite the addition of perennial all-pro fullback Jim Brown. A number of players, including Jim Brown, openly criticized their coach for being too rigid. They focused particularly on the messenger system, another Brown innovation, in which the coach called all offensive plays from the sideline, sending them in with a guard. Two years after buying a controlling interest in the Browns, owner Arthur ("Art") Modell fired Brown as coach amid much controversy. Brown continued as a vice president of the team for a number of years but was effectively out of football for the first time since the 1920s. At the age of fifty-four he tried pursuing a life of leisure in La Jolla, California, but found retirement the "darkest period of my life." His wife, Kathryn, died in 1969, and in 1973 Brown married Mary Taylor Rightsell, a widow with four children.
Brown returned to football in 1968 as the founder, coach, and general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals, a franchise of the American Football League (AFL). The AFL began in 1960 as an alternative to the NFL, eventually giving rise to the Super Bowl. Brown had a voting trust in the Bengals, which gave him complete control over football operations. "It wasn't the money," Brown said of his decision to return to coaching. "Football has been my life. I have a strong desire to become alive again." The AFL and the NFL merged in 1970, forming one league with two conferences, the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. That year the Bengals won the AFC Central division title in only their third year. Brown also led Cincinnati to postseason berths in 1974 and 1975.
Brown stepped down as head coach of the Bengals in 1976 but continued as the team's vice president and general manager. His autobiography published in 1979 created a controversy charge that in 1962 Art Modell had ordered him to play Ernie Davis, who was dying of leukemia, in an exhibition game. Modell vehemently denied the accusation.
Brown died of pneumonia at his Indian Hill home at the age of eighty-two and is buried in Rose Hill Memorial Park Cemetery in Massillon. Brown was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, and both the Massillon Tigers and the Cincinnati Bengals named their stadiums after him. One of Brown's enduring legacies is his excellence as a teacher: more than forty of his former players and assistants went on to coach in the NFL.
Materials relating to Brown's career are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Brown's autobiography with Jack Clary, PB: The Paul Brown Story (1979), provides an in-depth view of his career and innovative approach to the game. Dick Forbes, The Cincinnati Bengals and the Magic of Paul Brown (1973), discusses Brown's influence on the team he founded. See also Jack Newcombe, "Paul Brown: Football's Licensed Genius," Sport (Dec. 1954), and Lonnie Wheeler, "Father Football," Ohio (Sept. 1989). An obituary is in the New York Times (6 Aug. 1991).
John M. Carroll