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Job well done

Posted Dec 4, 2009

Posted: 9:25 a.m.

Only Sam Wyche won more Bengals games than franchise founder Paul Brown with 64 and now that Marvin Lewis is one win away from tying Brown at 55, he had to smile.

Not everyone has as many wins as the owner and founder.

“It’s significant,” he said one day this week. “From a longevity standpoint.”

It took Brown the first eight years of the franchise to go 55-59-1. Already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the father of modern football when he gave birth to the Bengals in 1968, Brown became pro sports’ most successful expansion coach ever two years later when they won their last seven straight and went to the playoffs.

“I don’t know much about him; so far before my time,” said Carson Palmer, the franchise quarterback born that week in 1979 general manager Paul Brown hired Forrest Gregg to coach his team. 

“The guys like that, that’s what you see on NFL Films. The old school stuff.”

Someone told Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco this week that Brown once did the Ickey Shuffle at a Super Bowl and that he probably would have done an Ocho celebration if the media ever asked him.

“I don’t know enough to talk about him. No one ever sat me down and gave me the talk about him,” Ochocinco said. “I know some things. Great owner, great coach.”

That’s the first thing you’ve got to know about Paul Brown. He didn’t want anyone to sit you down and talk about him. His son, Bengals president Mike Brown, will talk about him from time to time, but he too is cautious to break the Paul Brown rule.

“When you lose, say little. When you win, say even less.”

Jim Anderson, the Bengals running backs coach, worked for Brown when he was the Bengals general manager and he still keeps sharp, concise quotes handy.

“Very systematic. Very organized. Very attentive to detail,” Anderson said. “The little things.”

P.B., which is what most everybody called him and what he called his autobiography, probably would be a little bit uncomfortable if he stepped out of Scott Simpson’s award-winning scoreboard video that opens every game at Paul Brown Stadium and ventured into the bowels of the place.

Lewis has made certain that Brown’s image and words surround his players daily. Strength coach Chip Morton built a virtual shrine to Brown in the weight room with his famous “eternal verities” quote etched on the wall next to a picture of a youthful Paul Brown sitting on a fence in his practice white T-shirt when the Bengals weren’t even a gleam in his eye.

“I think that’s important that there be something there in the player areas,” Lewis said. “His name is on this stadium.”

Cornerback Leon Hall, born in 1984, the year Brown hired Wyche, an original Bengal quarterback, to coach his team, quoted Brown earlier this year.

“Winning makes believers of us all.”

Those are the words stretched over a photo montage in the hallway leading from the locker room to the meeting rooms. In the NFL, the most mundane places like meeting rooms and menial tasks like watching film are P.B. legacies. Given that Brown is credited with professionalizing football by introducing to the game, among other things, full-time assistant coaches, playbooks, and taxi squads that were the forerunners of practice squads.

“First coach to give tests to his players before games,” said special teams coach Darrin Simmons, born in 1973, the year a rookie phenom named Isaac Curtis helped change the sport and caught 18.7 yards per ball while leading Brown’s Bengals to 10 wins.

“That was from his background as a teacher. As a coach, it’s not important how much you know. What’s important is being able to teach what you know to the players. I read his autobiography. Very interesting. As players change, coaches have to adjust. It’s a different society than it was 40 years ago and I think he was one of those guys that was able to do that.”

A few years ago when the Bengals were in the middle of one of their intense offseason conditioning programs, someone sent Lewis an NFL preseason magazine article from 1975, Brown’s last as a coach. It quoted him talking about how the game had grown so much that the league was headed to offseason conditioning programs.

“I’m sure if he were alive today,” said Lewis, “with the innovations that are around now, he would have come up with them before this. Definitely the coaches know, but it’s something that is getting away from the players because it’s so long ago.”

But Lewis would be proud of his No. 1 pick, right tackle Andre Smith, born the year the innovator had to grapple with the new age in the 1987 strike.

“Came up with the playbook, came up with the facemask,” Smith said. “I did my research. I talked to some people about him. And my dad knew about him. My dad is a sports almanac.”

Paul Brown has two heirs. His son and his son’s coach. Mike Brown, the Dartmouth quarterback who built cutting–edge passing teams in Cincinnati, and Lewis, the Idaho State linebacker who cut his teeth in the NFL on Steelers defense, don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to winning formulas. But together they have built a roster that is 8-3 and on the verge of a division title with Brown’s youngsters and Lewis’ veterans that Paul Brown would approve.

Just ask Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst and former offensive lineman who played for Brown’s last two teams.

“Paul would be enjoying this team. He’d like to see some more passing, no doubt. He was the forward pass before there was the forward pass,” Lapham said. “But he had an appreciation for tough, physical defense and he liked big backs. And he would have loved Carson. He was a quarterback guy. Otto Graham. Kenny Anderson.”

If Lewis had concerns about locker room chemistry a few weeks ago when the Larry Johnson signing was debated, it was a move rooted in history. It had Paul Brown written all over it. A big, experienced running back picked up for the stretch run of November, December and January.

It was the same mentality Brown used to shock the NFL in 1961 with the Browns. With the best big back to ever play the game already on his team in Jim Brown, he swung a trade for the first pick and took Ernie Davis, a Jim Brown Syracuse clone. He dealt away Bobby Mitchell, a future Hall of Famer, but a lighter back that Brown didn’t think had much of a future on the Cleveland tundra.

“He went all the way back to Marion Motley in Cleveland,” Anderson said of the late ‘40s. “He was really the first big back. And then here, we had big guys like Pete Johnson, Ickey. He knew what the elements were like in this division. We play all our games outside.”

Even when Johnson himself arrived, he knew the story. A football historian, Johnson was asked what he knew about the Bengals and said it was the same coach that coached Brown and Davis.

But because of a 24-hour media that maybe Paul Brown didn’t even foresee, locker room chemistry is a lot more important now, and the critical part of Johnson’s tryout was his interview with Lewis. When he passed, he signed, and with Bernard Scott looking like he’s going to be on the shelf this week, how good does that look?

“Big,” Lapham said. “He liked the big backs, but he also saw the passing game coming. He knew you had to pass it and stop the pass. He knew you needed to get shut-down cornerbacks like Kenny Riley and Lemar (Parrish). He drafted receivers in the first round like Isaac Curtis and he drafted tackles in the first round (Vernon Holland, Anthony Muñoz) to protect his quarterbacks. Those are all the positions nowadays that never make it to free agency.”

These “Scrap Heap Bengals,” with so many castoffs finding homes in a playoff run have echoes in Paul Brown’s rosters. Back in the ‘70s running back Jess Phillips went from prison to the Bengals. Record-breaking sacker Coy Bacon got a second chance in a trade.

Even Muñoz. The experts thought his shredded knee eliminated him from the NFL. Thirty years before Rey Maualuga got ignored in the first round coming out of USC, the Bengals never let it get that far and stunned the league by taking Muñoz with the third pick when they scouted USC in the Rose Bowl. It was a feared gamble, but Muñoz remains the club's only Hall of Famer.

There is plenty of Lewis, too. These Bengals are built with the AFC North in the 2000s in mind, Lewis’ era. They play with Lewis’ stubborn, physical schemes with key veterans that have more brains than upside and more production than measurables. If Brown didn’t have to worry about locker-room chemistry in the era before free agency and the Internet, Lewis and his peers have to be consumed with it.

“The thing with him,” Lewis said of Paul Brown, “is that he was a no-nonsense guy. At the end of the day, there was a right way and a wrong way and he tried to work somewhere in that.”

Mike Brown and Lewis may disagree at times on how to win and who can help them do it, but while Brown has the final say on personnel, Lewis has the final say on the field. That, Lewis says, is another P.B. legacy.

“The way Mike is on that, I think that comes straight from his father,” Lewis said. “No one interferes with the coach and his team. I know that is something Mike really believes in because his dad was always a big believer in that.”

Something old. Something new. Something P.B. Something Marvin. So far the marriage has resulted in 54-53-1 in seven seasons. Including his one playoff game, Lewis has coached 108 Bengals games. Brown coached 115. Lewis could tie him and pass him if the Bengals make the playoffs and win a couple of games. 

“I think I know what Paul would tell Marvin after the game,” said Lapham, who drew on his own experience.

It was the late ‘70s and Lapham, who had never played center, had to play there the last month of the season when Blair Bush tore up his knee. After the last game, Lapham was taken aback when a rather emotional Brown approached him.

“He told me, ‘Young man, job well done,’ ” Lapham said. “He never said much, so I could tell it was big. He was emotional. Best compliment I ever got in football.

“That’s what I think he’d tell Marvin: Job well done.”
 
 
    

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