Brown, Paul Eugene (“P. B.”)

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Brown, Paul Eugene (“P. B.”)

(b. 7 September 1908 in Norwalk, Ohio; d. 5 August 1991 in Cincinnati, Ohio), football coach who led the Cleveland Browns to three National Football League championships and was part owner of the Browns and later the Cincinnati Bengals.

Brown was the son of Lester Brown, a dispatcher for the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad, and Ida Sherwood, a homemaker. He moved with his parents and sister to Massillon, Ohio, a community renowned for football, when he was nine years old. He first played organized football as a 120-pound sophomore at Massillon’s Washington High School. His family had misgivings because of his small size, but his determination overcame their doubts. In the sixth game of the season, with the Massillon Tigers enjoying a safe lead, Brown was sent in at quarterback, and on his first play, he threw a touchdown pass.

Brown played three years of football, basketball, and baseball at Washington High, and was a pole-vaulter and broad jumper on the track team. He graduated from high school in 1926 and enrolled at Ohio State University (OSU) that fall when he was not quite seventeen years old. OSU’s coaches would not let him try out for the football team because he weighed only 145 pounds. Also, he found the huge student body overwhelming, and after his freshman year, he transferred to Miami University in Ohio, which proved more to his liking.

In his first year at Miami, Brown worked with the freshman football team. By his junior year he was the starting quarterback on the varsity team and the baseball team’s center fielder. He graduated in 1930 with a B.A. degree and immediately took a job coaching football and teaching English and history at Severn Middle Preparatory School in Annapolis, Maryland. His wife, Kathryn (“Katy”) Kester, whom he married in 1929, was a registered nurse, and she took over the school’s infirmary. They had three sons. In his two years at Severn, Brown’s football team won sixteen games, lost one, and tied one.

In 1932 Brown went back home to Massillon as head football coach and teacher at Washington High School. Over the next nine seasons the Massillon Tigers won eighty games, including the last thirty-three in a row, lost eight, and tied two. In his final year, Tiger games attracted an average of 18,200 spectators in a city with a population of 26,000. Brown coached basketball for several years and became director of athletics for Washington High and the city’s recreation director.

In 1941 Brown was named head coach at Ohio State University, “the only job I ever wanted,” he said later. At the age of thirty-three, he was the youngest head coach in the history of the Big Ten, a conference often Midwestern athletic powers. In his first season the Buckeyes won six games, lost one, and tied one. Their only loss was to Northwestern University, whose quarterback, Otto Graham, would star with Paul Brown’s Cleveland team after World War II. In 1942 the Buckeyes were Big Ten champions and acclaimed as the best in the country. Ohio State’s record slipped to 3–6 in 1943 because Brown had to rely on seventeen-year-old freshmen and students who had been refused military duty. During World War II Ohio State had affiliated with the U.S. Army’s ROTC program, which did not permit enrollees to play college football, while some of their Big Ten rivals had joined the navy’s V-12 program, which did.

Brown was commissioned as a lieutenant, junior grade, in the U.S. Navy in January 1944 and was assigned to organize and coach a football team at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago. In two seasons at Great Lakes, Brown’s teams posted records of 9–2—1 and 6–3—1 against colleges and other service teams. Brown was still in the navy in 1945 when he agreed to coach the Cleveland entry in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), a professional league that planned to start play in the 1946 season. In a contest for fans, the name Browns was chosen for the team with strong support from Paul Brown partisans in the Massillon-Canton area south of Cleveland.

The Cleveland Browns quickly established a standard of excellence that brought them the championship in each of the AAFC’s four years. Leaders of the National Football League derided the AAFC as “bush,” but when Cleveland and two other AAFC teams were absorbed by the NFL in 1950, the Browns soon proved more than equal to the challenge of competing in the older circuit by winning the championship. In Brown’s thirteen years of coaching the Browns in the NFL, the team won three league championships and seven conference titles.

After the 1962 season Brown was ousted by Art Modell, who became a part owner of the Browns in early 1961. Brown did not return to football until he helped organize the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968. He then coached the team until his retirement in 1975, after which he continued to run the Bengals’ business operations as general manager and vice president until his death. Brown’s first wife died of a heart attack during surgery in April 1969. He married Mary, a widow with four children, in June 1973.

Paul Brown was strait-laced and authoritarian in his dealings with players. His teams had a strict dress code calling for jackets and ties in public. In his later years he deplored the players’ union and players’ agents. He hated showboating and end zone antics after a touchdown. “Act like you’ve been there before,” he urged his players. As a coach, he stressed the fundamentals of blocking, tackling, and precise execution of offensive plays and defensive positioning. Brown died in 1991 in Cincinnati from complications caused by pneumonia.

An early innovator in professional football, Brown was the first head coach to hire full-time, year-round assistant coaches and was the first to give players intelligence and psychological tests to judge their ability to learn and improve. He introduced play books and classroom instruction to pro football. He stressed speed and was the first to test foot speed in the forty-yard dash. He was the first to use messenger guards to send in plays to the quarterback (a practice he could not engage in during his first three years of coaching professional football because unlimited substitution was not permitted until 1949). Brown was also the first coach to use game films to judge players and was among the first coaches to station assistants high up in the stadium for a bird’s-eye view of the action. The spotters used a telephone to the bench to suggest plays and defensive alignments.

With assistance from sportswriter Jack Clary, Paul Brown published his autobiography, PB: The Paul Brown Story, in 1979, four years after his last year as a coach. Clary also published an appreciation of Brown’s many contributions to professional football, “Paul Brown,” in the winter 1992 issue of The Coffin Corner, a bimonthly publication of the Professional Football Researchers Association. Bill Walsh, a former assistant coach for Brown and later head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and the New York Times sportswriter Ira Berkow assessed Brown’s place in professional football history in the Times in the days following his death (7 Aug. 1991 and 11 Aug. 1991). An obituary is in the New York Times (6 Aug. 1991).

Robert W. Peterson