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'The best ability is reliability'

Posted Dec 13, 2017

Pete Brown had not been gone a day, but as Tuesday began to fade into dinner Duke Tobin can almost see him pulling an index card out of his shirt pocket and writing down one of his signature expressions. “The best ability is reliability. And if it’s not reliability, its availability,” Tobin is saying in the middle of preparing for the next draft. “There was no one more reliable and available than Pete Brown.'

Pete Brown had not been gone a day, but as Tuesday began to fade into dinner Duke Tobin can almost see him pulling an index card out of his shirt pocket and writing down one of his signature expressions.

“The best ability is reliability. And if it’s not reliability, its availability,” Tobin is saying in the middle of preparing for the next draft. “There was no one more reliable and available than Pete Brown. He was more than a mentor and he was a great mentor. He was my friend. And he’s someone who was easy to be a friend with.”

It was a tough, sad day for Bengaldom after losing one of its knights at age 74. The famously ego-less Pete Brown’s title at the end was senior vice president for player personnel. But like his unassuming button-down shirt demeanor, it doesn’t capture his massive impact on the franchise or the game.

Brown, the younger brother of Bengals president Mike Brown, the uncle of executive vice president Katie Blackburn, and the youngest child of Bengals founder Paul Brown, is not only one of the architects of the Bengals’ record-breaking expansion team of the 1970s, the Super Bowl teams of the 1980s, and the perennial playoff teams of the teens. But when it comes to strength training his influence may rival what his father meant to pro coaching.

“He had a pioneering, creative streak in him, just like P.B.,” says Kim Wood, Brown’s former business partner who help him transform strength training from the back alley of American sports into the mainstream. “Pete was very steady, very sharp. …. Somebody I knew I could count on. A calming, welcoming personality. He had absolutely no ego. He only cared about doing the task at hand just for the sake of it.”

Wood, who became the NFL’s first full-time strength coach as Paul Brown’s final innovation in the swan song of ’75, talked to Pete Brown every day for the nearly 40 years they were in business. Often that included a trip back from a meeting with Brown taking an index card out of his shirt pocket and saying ‘Let me write down this guy’s quote before I forget.”

The owlish, gentle Brown could fool you. Wood says the former Denison guard also had a long streak of toughness. He also had vastly versatile tastes. Pete Brown always surprised his brother with new ventures. He not only read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, he also read Ring Magazine and liked to mix it up himself in combat sports long before they became popular training tools.

“I remember one time he showed me some prize fighters that he was training and that came out of the blue,” Mike Brown says.

“I wouldn’t want to play poker with the Brown boys,” Wood says. “We had bad times, but you’d never know it. We had good times, but you’d never know it. These guys were intellectuals, but also intellectual when it comes to football.”

But when Mike Brown called Wood first thing Wednesday morning, Wood knew it was bad. For Mike Brown, the loss is incalculable. When you figure out what to call a business partner, brother, sounding board, and friend, then that’s what’s missing.

Pete Brown (left) and Mike Brown: “He was the one person I could have complete confidence."

“He was the one person I could have complete confidence. No reservations,” Mike Brown says. “He understood. He never failed my confidence.”


For years there were Sunday walks in the offseason. Mike would head to Pete’s home in Indian Hill, meet him at the door and they’d walk for two miles, a ritual that didn’t stop until the aches and pains started a few years ago.

“Mike always wanted to hear Pete’s opinion, no question about it,” says head coach Marvin Lewis, who saw it in the last 15 drafts.

The range of Wednesday’s reminisces showed Brown’s reach. Bengals all-time passing leader Ken Anderson called from Hilton Head, S.C., wanting to know the arrangements because he would leave immediately for Cincinnati. He wasn’t surprised to hear that they’re private but he knows Brown, probably more than anyone, made him public.


It was Pete Brown beating the bushes that got the tip there was a small-college quarterback doing big things in Rock Island, Ill. Brown’s encyclopedic knowledge of everybody on the draft board was already beginning to evolve among fellow scouts on the road.

“They would say he had ‘a photographic memory,’” recalls current Bengals scout Bill Tobin. “And they’d test him and he wouldn’t be wrong.”

When Anderson heard the news Tuesday, his mind flashed back 47 years.

“He was the first guy to scout me,” Anderson says of that night in 1970 Brown drove from Notre Dame to Valparaiso, Ind., to watch Anderson quarterback Augustana College. “All the little twists of fate that would put a kid from little from Augustana with Paul Brown and Bill Walsh instead of going somewhere I could get cut or not be coached or not play. It could have worked out so differently had Pete Brown not come to Valparaiso”

Gil Brandt, the NFL.com draft guru who built the America’s Team Cowboys of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, is still shaking his head. He remembers taking an Ozarks Airways flight to Moline, Ill., to hear Anderson’s coach say, “You and Brown,” had been the only ones there so far.

Pete Brown filed that first full report on Anderson at the end of September, 1970 and Brown, well read and extremely bright, immediately was drawn to Anderson’s high grades in his math major. “Made a sensational twisting, jumping, turning 22 yard T.D. run,” he wrote. “Real athlete. Second leading scorer on basketball team. 3.75 student on 4 points in math.” That led to visits from Walsh and Mike Brown and what transpired is what Mike Brown calls the drafting of the most important player in franchise history.

On Christmas Day, he filed his final report. Second round pick…I like Anderson’s future.”  Under the heading, “What Do We Need To Know Further for Final Rating On This Prospect,” Pete Brown wrote for Anderson, “Just take him.”


But Anderson also remembers his ’70s teammates like wide receiver Chip Myers and running back Ed Williams plucked from semi pro leagues. The Oklahoma City Hustlers for Williams, Wood remembers. Or cornerbacks Ken Riley and Lemar Parrish and running back Boobie Clark coming from the ranks of the historically black colleges, where Clark went from a second string tight end to an NFL Rookie of the Year candidate. Or defensive end Ken Johnson, a former college basketball player.


“No question he was a great talent evaluator,” says Anderson, who also saw Brown work for ten years as a coach.  “He was the guy on the ground. I don’t think he went on road much in later years, but he watched more film than anybody. Mike relied on him a lot.”


Duke Tobin feels a void without Pete Brown.

“Just take him.”

Tobin has to laugh. It still sounds like Pete.

“He always gave you an opinion, but it was always well researched, well thought out and he had a very unique way of being non-confrontational,” Tobin says. “He had a very unique way in his demeanor in the draft room and throughout the process. He was very matter of fact and everyone knew in the organization he was saying something very meaningful. I came to rely on that.”

In the last decade Brown eased the scouting and draft responsibilities to Tobin in a seamless transition that was only made possible by an ego that preferred company car Chevys, 1970s winter jackets, and a dislike for the camera so intense that everything in the media guides from Virgil Carter to Jeff Blake aged but his picture.

“It was something I always inside praised Pete,” Mike Brown says. “He accepted it and helped. It’s always hard to give up your control, power, influence. Pete worked with Duke to take the ball and run with it.”

But as Tobin says, to the end, Brown's opinion was highly valued and he, of course, had no problems delivering that unvarnished opinion. Even in his last draft. Pete Brown, a big fan of the big back (Boobie Clark, Pete Johnson, Ickey Woods, Corey Dillon, Rudi Johnson, Jeremy Hill), had high grades on Oklahoma's Joe Mixon and let Mike Brown know he thought it was a mistake trading down in the second round instead of taking Mixon. They would lose him, he said. When they got Mixon any way, plus a fourth-round pick, Pete Brown was a happy man.

He won some, he lost some. After every pick, Mike would say, "Pete, call it in." But there were some picks  before Pete called in that he'd convince Mike to switch the card off the board.

"We might have disagreed a few times," Mike Brown said. "But after the pick was in, he always supported me."  


Tobin calls the absence of Brown’s 50 years in the draft room and eternal patience, “a void.” But the loss may have been felt harder in the Paul Brown Stadium weight room, where Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton spent part of Wednesday trying to educate a class of one on how strength training changed in the ‘70s and ‘80s in the holy wars between machine training and free weights.


How Brown and Wood took Nautilus Midwest and made it Nautilus’ most successful franchise before leaving and starting Hammer Strength from scratch and turning it into a national powerhouse that married free weights and machines When they sold it after about 20 years, they were legends in financial circles as well as athletic ones.

Men like Morton and his former Bengals assistant Ray Oliver, now a University of Kentucky associate athletic director, cut their teeth on the company’s clinics in regional workshops that featured the nation’s top strength coaches and spawned the current generation.

“It was about the equipment, but they had an educational piece to it,” Morton says. “I would drive to Ann Arbor, Pittsburgh, Hershey, Cincinnati. I was exposed to great coaches. That’s how I got hired at Penn State. It’s how Kim Wood became one of mentors.”

That’s where Morton absorbed Wood’s philosophy, Harder but brief exercises. Train with intensity. Lower volume. Work harder. Oliver, fascinated by Brown’s football knowledge, picked his brain about personnel at those gatherings.

“I’ve known him for 30 years. I remember when I was coaching at Pitt and we had a bunch of NFL prospects. And by the end of it, he was telling me things about my guys that I didn’t know," Oliver says. “Then when I was working there he was always looking for that basketball player that could play tight end.”


When Lewis brought Morton with him to the Bengals in 2003, he was in awe with honor. He was replacing Wood and Brown was watching upstairs. But Brown was his typical gentle self. He was there if needed but wouldn’t meddle. He’d cut out clippings, stuff them in envelopes and put them Morton’s mailbox. “FYI.” Or “Thought you would find this interesting.”

Chip Morton went way back with Pete Brown.


“The guy was very current,” Morton says, recalling a recent story Brown clipped on the world’s fittest man.
He also continued to lift weights in his office and one time Brown saw Morton looking at a Kettlebell and told him he could take it and try it out.

“It’s the first time I ever held one,” Morton said. “And he said, ‘It’s a fun little toy. You might like that.’ And now it’s become one of my passions.”

A few years ago when the weight room was revamped, Morton asked Brown which company’s machines he’d like to see in there. Brown waved him off. Your call.

“End of an era,” Oliver says.

Write it on an index card.

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