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Who Dey Perspective: The Paul Brown Legacy

Posted Apr 1, 2011

Paul Brown, of course, needs no introduction on Bengals.com. His name is among only a handful that can justly be included in conversation about the greatest figures in football history.

But the Bengals organization takes daily pride in Paul Brown as our founder, and we don’t want his real story to grow fuzzy, particularly in the minds of younger fans. We believe that to this day, it remains a high-interest football read and carries an inspiring message.

So during the next two weeks in our Who Dey Perspective, we offer readers a compact but detail-rich piece titled “The Paul Brown Legacy.” A large core of the material was written under the auspices of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Bengals PR department has added to and edited the content to some degree.

We hope you’ll budget a few minutes of your reading regimen to give this piece a try. We think you’ll be glad you did, and that’s our “extra point.”

-- Jack Brennan
Bengals public relations director

THE PAUL BROWN LEGACY

Paul Brown was not only the founder and first coach of the Bengals franchise, he was one of the winningest coaches and greatest innovators in pro football history.

“Whether they know it or not, nearly everyone in the game of football has been affected by Paul Brown,” NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said in 1991, upon Brown’s death. “His wealth of ideas changed the game.”

Elected in 1967 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Brown was the founder and first coach of two franchises. Prior to founding the Bengals in ’67, he launched the Cleveland Browns, whose extended pro football dynasty in the 1940s and 1950s remains unmatched to this day. He is also credited as being preeminent in making NFL coaching the exact and exacting science it is today. When he organized the Cleveland pro team in 1946, he started doing things no one else had ever tried.

A lucky coaching draw for Cleveland

In the years since Paul Brown’s death, state and national lotteries have made all of us familiar with the term “Instant Winner.” In the realm of pro football, however, it’s a tag that can be almost singly applied to Paul Brown.

His Cleveland Browns won the All-America Football Conference championship in every season of the league’s existence (1946-49). After joining the NFL in 1950, the Browns reached the championship game in seven of their first eight years, and they won the title in 1950, 1954 and 1955.

Only when other coaches began copying many of Brown’s procedures did their teams start catching up. Brown’s cumulative record over 25 years of pro coaching —222-112-9 (.660), including postseason—is one of the finest ever compiled.

The above mark includes Brown’s eight seasons as coach of the Bengals, in which he nearly hit the .500 mark for regular season play (55-56-1) despite starting from scratch in 1968 with an expansion franchise that was not generously stocked by established teams. When Brown’s Bengals reached the NFL playoffs in 1970, they set a record for earliest entry into postseason by an expansion team (third season). That mark stood for 26 years until 1996, when Carolina and Jacksonville, franchises formed under much more favorable conditions for quick growth, earned playoff berths in their second seasons.

Brown entered pro football with a background of exceptional success as a high school, college and service coach, highlighted by a national championship season at Ohio State. He had gone 96-9-3 as a high school coach, 18-8-1 at Ohio State (including the 1942 national title), and 15-5-2 at Great Lakes Naval Station (near Chicago) during World War II.

The consummate innovator

Immediately upon launching the Cleveland team, Brown began a series of innovations which would revolutionize pro football. Among them:

  •     He was the first to make coaching a year-round occupation, not only for himself but for a full-time staff.
  •     He invented the draw play.
  •     He was the first coach to extensively use notebooks and classroom techniques in preparing his teams.
  •     He pioneered the practice of grading players on studies of game films.
  •     He introduced the use of face masks on helmets.
  •     He was the first to call plays from the sidelines, using rotating guards as messengers to the huddle.
  •     He made the first significant use of intelligence tests as a guide to players’ learning potential.
  •     He was the first coach to keep players at a hotel the night before home games.
  •     He used his personnel to its utmost, becoming the first coach to switch some fine running backs to the defensive unit “because they were so good, I didn’t want to waste them on offense.”
  •     He developed pass patterns designed to pick holes in the defense, then set to work perfecting a defense that could counteract a pattern passing attack.

The above measures are now common practice, but 65 years ago, they were revolutionary in the coaching world.

NFL skeptics get convinced

It has been claimed that “P.B.” did more than anyone else to bring about the dissolution of the All-America Football Conference, and in a sense this is true. His Cleveland teams were so dominant, compiling a 52-4-3 record, that no other team seriously contented for the title, and fans of other clubs lost interest.

But the AAFC did salvage a 1950 merger with the NFL, and many expected this to result in some instant comeuppance for “P.B.” The 1950 season opener pitted Cleveland against the defending NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles.

And there were, indeed, plenty of lessons to be learned in the game. But all of them were taught by the Browns.

Led by the passing of Otto Graham, one of Brown’s many future Pro Football Hall of Famers, Cleveland stunned the Eagles 35-10. Graham passed for 346 yards and three TDs.

“When the game was over, (Eagles coach) Greasy Neale said we were only a ‘pass and trap team’ that played basketball,” Brown was to recall. “But we played them in Cleveland later that season on a muddy day, and we beat them in a different way. We hardly threw a pass.”

The Browns went on to capture the championship in their first NFL season. Their 10-2 regular season tied the New York Giants for best record in the league, and they defeated the Giants 8-3 in an American Conference playoff. Advancing to the league championship game, they won 30-28 over the Los Angeles Rams, champions of the National Conference.

It was, as mentioned, the first of three Browns’ NFL titles that came in just six seasons. In their first six NFL regular seasons, the Browns went 58-13-1, winning five conference crowns and tying for a sixth.

Next week: P.B. breaks racial barriers, keys the most important appointment in NFL history and plants roots in Cincinnati.

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