Brown, Paul

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Paul Brown


American football coach

Paul Brown was the first head coach of the Cleveland Browns football team. He played a major role in the evolution of the modern day game, devising detailed game plans, playbooks, and classroom learning techniques. He was also the first coach to hire a full-time coaching staff, as well as instituting the practice of analyzing game films. He coached with the Browns from 1946-62, and then with the Cincinnati Bengals from 1968-1975.

Growing Up

Paul Brown was born on September 7, 1908, in Norwalk, Ohio, a small town north of Canton (home of the Football Hall of Fame and where the National Football League was founded in 1920). Brown's father, Lester, was a railroad dispatcher and responsible for split-second switching of trains from one track to another. This precision rubbed off on the young Paul Brown, and decades later Coach Brown would leave nothing to chance in his football programs.

As a young man, Paul Brown played football when it was only beginning to emerge in America as a sport with a following. When Brown entered Massillon High School, he was skinny, but would earn the right to play quarterback, learning early that his true passion was in overseeing the game.

He graduated from Massillon in 1926. From there he went on to play at Miami University in Ohio. Although he saw some success on the playing field, it was dictating

what should happen and controlling all aspects of the game that truly resonated in Paul Brown. He aspired to a coaching position, and the decades he spent at the helm of football programs would change the game of football forever.

A Storybook Beginning

Brown returned to Massillon as a football coach, and turned the club around. The school was seriously in debt, and less than 3,000 fans were attending each game. Although thousands of fans at a football game in the 1930s might seem like a lot, this was Ohio, where high school football is king. Had Brown remained only at the high school level, his reputation in Ohio lore would have remained solid. But he didn't stop there.

After nine years of high school coaching, and much to the relief of most every other high school coach in Ohio, Brown left. But he left having lost only one game in sixty as a coach at Massillon. There were now over 22,000 people coming to each home game. His legacy was not only with the football program. The money generated by the popularity of football helped build a new swimming pool and observatory, and it allowed the school to offer classes in speech and drama.

On to OSU

Brown moved on to take the head coaching position with Ohio State University. Francis Schmidt had resigned as coach and the people of Ohio wanted Paul Brown. Many of the high school coaches, according to Mark Bechtel in Sports Illustrated, wanted this dominating presence out of their ranks. "[They] made it known that if Brown did not get the Ohio State job, they would encourage their star players to matriculate out of state." Within two years after his hiring at OSU, Brown took the Buckeyes, who had been blown out in many of their games prior to Brown's arrival, to the national championship.

But his tenure at Ohio State would be short-lived. After only a few years, Brown was drafted and stationed as a lieutenant at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, outside Chicago. There, he initiated a football program, and asked Weeb Ewbank to be one of his assistants.

Though Brown had been promised that his job at OSU would be waiting for him when he returned, his successor also happened to be a friend of his, Carroll Widdoes, and Brown didn't want to put him out of a job. So he looked for gainful football employment elsewhere.

The Pro Ranks

In 1946, the city of Cleveland had been awarded one of eight franchises in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). In his article, Bechtel wrote that Mickey McBride, owner of a cab company in Cleveland, bought the rights to the new team. But the catch was that McBride, regardless of how much money he could spend, had no clue about what to do with a football team. He knew of only one coach in all of football, Notre Dame's Frank Leahy, whom he was going to hire. But Cleveland Plain Dealer Sportswriter John Dietrich encouraged McBride to look elsewhere, and persuaded him that hiring Paul Brown would be the best choice. Thus, Paul Brown took over as part owner, general manager, and head coach for the new Cleveland Browns.

With McBride's ignorance of the game, Brown had total control over the team. He had an amazing ability to spot talent, and as he formed the team, he wasn't looking for known stars. Brown sought men who would be a proper fit into the boot camp he was going to run. He intentionally went looking for obscure players, but chose Otto Graham as his quarterback. Brown would hire Bill Willis of Kentucky State College as an assistant coach, one of the few African Americans participating in a major college program. When all was said and done, Brown brought forty-six players to the Cleveland training camp on the campus of Bowling Green State University.

Gridiron Success

In their first season as a team, the Cleveland Browns won their first five games by a combined score of 142-20. They ended up at 12-2 on the year, winning the franchise's first AAFC Championship over New York at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Brown coached Cleveland to championships the next three seasons, as well.

In 1949, the NFL took the Browns into the league (along with the Baltimore Colts and the San Francisco 49ers). It was the end of AAFC, but the beginning of more success for Coach Brown. The Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), Bert Bell , always aware of marketing strategies, wanted to pit the best teams from both leagues against one another. So in the first game of the season, the Browns played the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles. The Cleveland Browns dominated the contest, emerging with 35-10 rout. The Browns' precision passing game was awesome, and the Eagles' coach didn't know how to defense it.


1908Born September 7 in Norwalk, Ohio
1932-40Leads Massillon (OH) High School football team to 59 wins and 1 loss in his tenure there
1940Becomes head coach of Ohio State Buckeyes
1942Wins national championship with Buckeyes
1944Stationed as a lieutenant at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center outside of Chicago
1946Hired by owner Mickey McBride, Paul Brown puts all pieces in place for a successful Cleveland Browns football team
1950Transfers from AAFC to the NFL, plays first game against Eagles on September 16
1950Leads Cleveland to a 10-2 season and beats L.A. Rams to win the NFL championship
1951-55Leads the Browns to the championship game for five straight years, winning it all in 1954 and 1955
1956Brown suffers his first losing season as coach
1961Advertising executive Art Modell buys the Browns for $4 million
1962Makes famous trade, sending Browns running back Bobby Mitchell to Washington for Ernie Davis (would eventually lead to his firing as head coach)
1962Browns finish 7-6-1
1963Released from coaching duties of the Cleveland Browns by team owner Art Modell
1967Inducted into Professional Football Hall of Fame
1968Starts coaching again, this time with an expansion teamthe Cincinnati Bengals
1975Retires from coaching
1991Dies on August 5, in Cincinnati, Ohio, following complications from pneumonia

Awards and Accomplishments

1942Coached Ohio State University to national title
1946-49Led team to #1 finishes and titles in All American Football Conference (AAFC)
1950-55, 1957Finished in first place in his NFL division
1950, 1954-55Won NFL Championship Game
1967Inducted into National Football Hall of Fame

Paul Brown would coach in Cleveland until 1963. In 1968, he became the first coach of a new team in Ohio, the Cinncinnati Bengals. But his success in Cincinnati didn't come close to his prior successes. He finished his tenure as coach of the Bengals with a 55-59-1 record. He retired from coaching in 1975.

Paul Brown ended his career with a 222-112-9 record in professional football. He won four All-American Football Conference titles and three NFL titles. With the Cleveland Browns, he compiled a record of forty-seven wins, four losses and three ties in the AAFC, and the move to the NFL would garner almost as much success.

Brown's Impact on Football

The list of people Paul Brown had a direct influence on is long and prestigious. A few among the many are defensive back and later Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula , Bill Walsh, and offensive guard Chuck Noll. Cinncinnati coach Sam Wyche learned from Brown. And Weeb Ewbank , who coached the Baltimore Colts and New York Jets to championships, had known Paul Brown almost from the beginning. Bud Grant and Bill Walsh, like Ewbank, also coached directly beneath Brown.

Brown's coaching style was new to all who came across it. When his players showed up for their first practice, he handed out notebooks and made them write their assignments for each play. He insisted they commit football quotations to memory. Brown is probably the single biggest influence on the modern day style of coaching. At mid-century, he was analyzing game film, using diagrams of pass patterns, and sending in guards to deliver plays to the quarterback. The current earpiece that coaches use to talk to their quarterbacks is a also brainchild of Brown's. Even the facemask, which was designed by Brown's equipment manager.

His success was won with military rigor. Brown was once quoted in the Washington Post as saying that, "The history of all successful teams shows authority concentrated in the coach. The players can't go beyond me. That's the way it should be." His players were expected to study nightly. He saw it as a classroom, just like when he was coaching high school or at the Great Lakes Naval Academy. "I've never changed my approach," he said. "I talk to them exactly as I lectured college students, and I expect them to respond as students."

The Brown System Finds An Adversary

Brown developed an incredibly complex offensive system. Contrary to closed lineups previously used,

Brown opened up the field, spreading his receivers and utilizing the whole field. And he ran his team with precision, so much so that he needed assistants in his chain of command. One such assistant, Fritz Heisler, said, "He reminds me of a surgeon. He's impersonal, analytical, always studying and icy cold in doing his job. He's a perfectionist in every detail."

Paul Brown would not suffer a losing season until 1956, but the poor record gave him the pick he'd wanted in the draft. He took Syracuse fullback Jim Brown . One more "Brown" into the mix, however, upset the balance. In drafting Jim Brown, Coach Brown had gotten hold of a man who refused to take many orders, which in turn opened up the controversy that would ultimately cost Paul Brown his job in Cleveland.

In 1961 a flashy advertising executive named Art Modell bought the Cleveland Browns for $4 million. Modell loved Jim Brown's play, and envisioned Brown as a marketable commodity. But this was directly against Paul Brown's wishes, who wanted the ship he ran kept tight. Football players were football players. Modell, however, got Jim Brown a radio show and a newspaper column in an attempt to increase his visibility.

Legends By the Lake

Among Brown's greatest gifts was his uncanny ability to evaluate talent and to find it in unlikely places. "It isn't necessary to have been a star in college," Brown said of prospective players. "Stars are often figments of sportswriters' imaginations." Instead, Brown went after men who would fit into the disciplined system he ran. "I want high-grade, intelligent men," he said, "I want them strong and lean. There's no place on my team for big Butch, who talks hard and drinks hard. I pick my men for attitude. I want fellows who like to win-nobody phlegmatic."

Source: Mark Bechtel, Sports Illustrated, September 1, 1999, p. 4.

The battering of horns hit a fever pitch in 1962, when Paul Brown, who prior to Modell's tenure as owner always conducted the trades himself, traded, without Modell's permission, future Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell away to the Washington Redskins. In the trade, Brown picked up Ernie Davis, whom Brown wanted to put in his backfield for an unstoppable two back combination. Yet in an unfortunate circumstance, Davis was soon diagnosed with leukemia, and he would die before ever playing a game with the Browns. Modell, who liked Davis, was nonetheless angered over being left out of the decision-making process, and when, in 1962, the Browns finished the season only one game over .500, Modell fired Paul Brown.

Who's to Blame?

Some apologists for Modell claim he didn't have a chance, that Paul Brown lost touch with the changing times. The new generation of players were different than those who first adhered to Brown's militaristic style. Yet it is difficult to deny the success that came with his method, for better or worse. In seventeen seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Paul Brown coached the team to a .760 winning percentage, with the team making thirteen post season appearances.

Paul Brown died on August 5, 1991, in Cincinnati, Ohio, from complications following pneumonia. Upon his death, Modell, with whom he had so many disagreements, called Brown a "pioneer, an innovator. The game we have todayplayers, coaches, owners and fanscan be traced back to the many things he started doing in the 1950s."

In the years before his death, Paul Brown was the only voice of dissent against the expansion that has taken the NFL by storm. And he hated instant replay, saying, "It just adds another layer of error" to the game. He was never one to hold back on his opinions. And he had plenty of those. "Working under Paul Brown is like living next to a library," said Sam Wyche in a Sports Illustrated obituary shortly after Paul Brown died. "I'd be crazy not to take out a book."

Paul Brown was the first head coach of the Cleveland Browns football team. He played a major role in the evolution of the modern day game, devising detailed game plans, playbooks, and classroom learning techniques. He was also the first coach to hire a full-time coaching staff, as well as instituting the practice of analyzing game films. He coached with the Browns from 1946-62, and then with the Cincinnati Bengals from 1968-1975.


(With Jack T. Clary) Paul Brown: The Paul Brown Story, MacMillan, 1979.



Brown, Paul, and Jack T. Clary. Paul Brown: The Paul Brown Story. New York: MacMillan, 1979.

Long, Tim. Browns Memories: The 338 Most Memorable Heroes, Heartaches and Highlights from 50 Seasons of Cleveland Browns Football. Cleveland, OH: Gray and Company, 1996.

Moon, Bob. The Cleveland Browns: The Great Tradition. Sportradition Publishers, 1999.

"Paul Brown." Newsmakers 1992. Issue Cumulation. Detroit: Gale, 1992.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.

Sullivan, George. Pro Football's All-Time Greats: The Immortals in Pro Football's Hall of Fame, New York: Putnam Publishers, 1968.


Bechtel, Mark. "Legends By The Lake." Sports Illustrated (September 1, 1999).

Chicago Tribune (August 6, 1991).

King, P. "Coach of coaches: Paul Brown dies at 82, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and inspiration." Sports Illustrated (August 12, 1991).

Lamb, K. "Paul Brown: in the beginning there were balls and helmets and stripes. Brown made it football." Sport-New-York (December 1986).

New York Times (August 6, 1991).

Quarterback (November, 1969): 24-29.

Time (August 19, 1991): 54.

Washington Post (August 6, 1991).

Williams, Marty. "First Came George Halas, Then Paul Brown." Football Digest (April, 1976): 50-54.

Younkers, Bob. "The Man from Massillon." Sport Life (fall, 1950): 12-13.


Mann, Frank D. "The Greatest Coach in Bengals' History." from Browns History Web site. (November 2, 2002).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren