Paul Brown – Cleveland Browns’ First Head Coach

Cleveland’s first head coach was Paul Brown and the team was named after him even though he initially objected to this move and was uncomfortable with it after it was done. He led the Browns to four successive AAFC titles in the 1940’s and went undefeated in the 1948 season which is a huge achievement in its own right. He was also the first coach to win a championship in both the college and professional games.

Paul Brown is remembered for leading the team to many championship games but also for being uncompromising and a tough negotiator as far as player salaries went. His stance

Paul Brown prowling the sideline

against players and their salaries and wage rises is partly why the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) was created by players and former Browns coach, Creighton Miller, who was also a lawyer.

Such an Influence on the Game

He is also credited with introducing several innovations to the league including the ‘Draw Play’, which is a delayed running play which starts out looking like a passing play. He also came up with the idea of the offensive linemen forming a ‘pocket’ around the quarterback to allow him a vital few more seconds to locate and pass to an open receiver. The idea was that the pocket would cut down on the angles the defense can get to the QB from as opposed to the older straight line idea.

The game to this point had mainly been about brute-force and running the ball as much as possible but Brown liked to pass the ball a lot more than the norm. He also brought in a ‘win by preparation and strategy’ rather than just the win with ‘size and brute-force’. This included the introduction of watching film of the opponents and their schemes to gain an edge in upcoming games. His teams would also have classroom sessions to learn the playbook as well as the film watching. He would constantly test his players about the playbook.

To make sure the franchise continued to be competitive, Brown came up with and instigated a detailed scouting program to enable the team to draft the best talent out of college.

Otto Graham wearing the first facemask in the NFL

Other innovations he is said to have helped bring into the game include the facemask, which was fitted to his quarterback Otto Graham’s helmet after he took an elbow to the face during a game against the Chicago Bears that would require 15 stitches.

The headsets that teams use today for the coaches to call plays into the QB on the field

were also brought to the game be Paul Brown in 1956. They were soon banned by the league as they thought they would give the team an unfair advantage. It wasn’t until 1994 that the league allowed this technology back into the league for all to use.

Brown was also the first to employ full-time assistant coaches to coach the different positions on the team. Usually, these assistants would have had a second job to help pay the bills.

He also brought in what could be today known as the “Practice Squad”. He wanted to keep promising players in his franchise who didn’t immediately have a spot on the team’s starting roster. The owner of the Browns, Arthur B McBride, had a large taxi firm and so put these promising players on this firms payroll even though they didn’t drive a taxi. This group was then known as the “Taxi Squad”.

The End in Cleveland

Paul Brown’s star player for many previous years, QB Otto Graham, retired after the 1955 season and that seems to be when the good times in Cleveland ended for Paul Brown. During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the players started to question what Paul Brown was doing and his search for a good replacement for Otto Graham wasn’t yielding any good results.

In the 1957 NFL Draft, the Browns took Fullback Jim Brown with their first pick. This would be a good pick for the team as he himself is a legend of the Cleveland Browns but would prove to be not so good for the strict head coach. Now that the NFL was being televised and outgrowing all other sports in the country, Jim Brown’s larger than life character went against how Paul Brown wanted to control the franchise and the image that it had.

When millionaire advertising executive Art Modell bought the franchise for $4million in 1961 things got worse for the coach. Art Modell was only 35 years old when he bought the team which meant he was close to the players in culture and mentality. Because of this, he started listening to their concerns about the strict way Paul Brown was running the team and his criticisms of the players. They were also concerned about his playcalling ability in the modern game. Even Art Modell was heard to be second guessing the coaches play calls.

Art Modell and Bill Belichick

Browns owner Art Modell sitting with yet another of the genius head coaches he fired!

Everyone seemed to be against the coach at this stage and it came to a head after the team lost in a playoff game against the New York Giants when a fake field goal went wrong allowing the Giants to comeback and win the game. This meant the Browns had missed out on the championship game for the second year in a row – something they weren’t used to doing.

The rifts between players, coach and owner grew too big and Brown was fired in 1963. When Art Modell had taken control of the franchise he had signed Paul Brown to a good 8-year deal. The coach carried on receiving his $82,500 per year salary and decided to take time away from the game and play golf as well as spending more time with his family.

Returning to the Game with Cincinnati

Even though he had pretty much everything he could want he was itching to get back on the sidelines. This happened in 1967 when the AFL placed a team in the Ohio city of Cincinnati – not too far from Cleveland. Paul Brown invested money in the franchise and was given the head coach and general manager roles. He was also promised that he’d have full control over football matters which is exactly what he wanted and needed for him to be successful.

Paul Brown returns to the game with the Cincinnati Bengals

Brown named his new Cincinnati team the “Bengals” as there had been a team named that in the city during the 1930’s. He thought it would be a nice link. He also chose the colours of the team to be virtually the same as his previous employers. This, I guess, was a kind of sticking two fingers up at them for what had transpired during his latter years there. The Bengals still wear orange but the shade of it has need changed and the stripes have been added to their helmets and uniforms.

After a slow start in Cincinnati with the Bengals, Paul Brown eventually turned things around. He got them to the playoffs three times during his reign as head coach but they would never go further than the first round. He lost his first encounter with the Browns 30-27 but later in the same year got his revenge with a victory. He called that win, “my greatest victory!”.

Another big influence he had on the NFL was the creation of a gameplan that he and his assistant coach Bill Walsh created as a means to best utilise the limited arm strength of their quarterback Virgil Carter. This offensive gameplan was the precursor to the West Coast offense that assistant coach Bill Walsh would go on to use with great success in San Francisco with the 49ers once he became head coach there.

Two of the greatest coaches of all time - Paul Brown and Bill Walsh

Brown retired from football in 1975 after his team were eliminated from the playoffs. By this time he was 67 years old and had spent 45 of those years being a huge influence on the world of American Football.

As well as the rich history of football in and around the state of Ohio and the city of Cleveland, Paul Brown and his massive impression on the game is partly why I chose the Cleveland Browns as the team I call “My Team!”. Maybe he was controversial with the amount of control he wanted over a franchise and maybe with how strict he was with his players – I reckon some of that strictness is needed on the personalities that are in the league today – but no-one can deny that this guy is one of the greatest to ever be in the NFL and they were lucky to have him.

The Cleveland Browns play host to the Minnesota Vikings at Twickenham stadium on either 22nd or 29th October 2017. Make sure you’re there and supporting the Browns if neither is, ‘your team’. Let’s get a good, loud showing for the Browns please! 😀