Bengals Founder Paul Brown Named the NFL's No. 1 Game Changer

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Paul Brown watches from the sideline during the 1975 Pro Football Hall of Fame game against the Washington Redskins in Canton, Ohio, Aug. 2, 1975. (AP Photo/Tony Tomsic)
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.

As part of the #NFL100 campaign celebrating the league's centennial season, NFL Network on Friday named Bengals founder Paul Brown the league's No. 1 Game Changer.

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 dynasty in the 1940s and 1950s remains unmatched in the sport to this day. He is also credited in making NFL coaching the exact and exacting science it is today. When he organized Cleveland in 1946, he started doing things no one else had ever tried:

The first to make coaching a year-round occupation for himself and a full-time staff.

  • Invented the draw play.
  • Extensively use notebooks and classroom techniques.
  • Pioneered the practice of grading players on studies of game films.
  • Introduced face masks on helmets.
  • The first to call plays from the sidelines, using rotating guards as messengers in the huddle.
  • Made the first significant use of intelligence tests as a guide to players' learning potential.
  • The first coach to keep players at a hotel the night before home games.
  • Used his personnel to its utmost, becoming the first coach to switch running backs to the defense "because they were so good, I didn't want to waste them on offense."
  • Developed pass patterns designed to pick holes in the defense, then set to work perfecting a defense that could counteract a pattern passing attack.

Brown also played a role in the scientific development of the forward pass, joining Hall of Famer Sid Gillman and two other former Rams coaches, Clark Shaughnessy and Hampton Pool, in creating the modern game.

"To succeed in pro football, you have to do one thing first," Brown once said. "You have to surround yourself with (assistant coaches) who understand the forward pass--who are in the forefront of the continuous evolution of passing."

Brown began his career as coach at Massillon High in 1930, when Knute Rockne was still at Notre Dame. Thereafter he spent most of his life in Ohio and retired as head coach of the Bengals at age 67 in 1975. Before forming the Browns and Bengals, he led Ohio State to its first national title in 1942.

NFL 100 Greatest airs from Weeks 2-11 with two, one-hour episodes airing back-to-back each Friday night, counting down the greatest across five categories: Plays, Games, Characters, Game Changers and Teams.

The NFL and the Associated Press (AP) came together to select the 100 greatest in the five categories, comprising an 80-person blue ribbon panel. In addition to the rankings, NFL Films conducted more than 400 interviews with celebrities, current NFL stars and legends.