The late Paul Brown was named to Sports Illustrated’s “100 figures who shaped the NFL’s first century” list. It was compiled as part of the NFL’s upcoming 100th anniversary season, which begins on Thursday (Sept. 5) with a matchup between two of its oldest franchises when Green Bay visits Chicago.
Born to Lester and Ida Brown in 1908, Paul Brown grew up at 7 W. Elm Street — just off Benedict Ave. — in Norwalk.
In 1917, Lester, a railroad dispatcher, was transferred to Massillon when Paul was nine. He became the head coach of Massillon Washington from 1932-40. He climbed the coaching ladder from there,
His Massillon teams lost just 10 games in 11 seasons, which helped Brown get the head football position at Ohio State University — where he coached the Buckeyes to their first-ever national championship in 1942.
After World War II, he became head coach of the Browns, who won all four AAFC championships before joining the NFL in 1950. Brown coached the Browns to three NFL titles, but was fired in January 1963 amid a power struggle with team owner Art Modell.
In 1968, Brown co-founded and was the first coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. He retired in 1975, but remained the team president until his death in 1991. The Bengals currently play in Paul Brown Stadium, which opened in 2000. Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
Below is Brown’s entry in the Sports Illustrated list:
“Considered by many the godfather of modern football coaching, Paul Brown’s biography could extend for hundreds of thousands of words. But put simply: The familiar machinations with which the majority of successful coaches operate in the NFL today can almost all be derived from the behavior of Brown.
Before Brown, film study was not the norm. Nor was scouting as we know it today. Nor was hiring a coaching staff and deploying it across distinct areas of expertise. Of course, these are only the surface-level concepts that he gets credit for.
Brown is to coaches what Chuck Berry is to guitar players; it’s far easier to find the things coaches do today that did not originate from one of Brown’s methods. Any time you think there exists a new sound or groove, it’s best to rewatch Brown’s A Football Life to make sure it wasn’t stolen.
With a tree that spawned the careers of Bud Grant, Chuck Noll, Don Shula and Bill Walsh among countless others, Brown led by example. Even if that example sometimes caused players to recoil — he was notoriously aggressive when it came to contract negotiations, and players remember him for a dictatorial streak — it was difficult to argue with Brown’s success.
In 1946, the former Ohio State coach took over the fledgling Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference and proceeded to win all four AAFC titles, then another three when the Browns migrated to the NFL. A seismic change in professional football came when Brown, who operated as the de facto GM of the team, split with Cleveland and its new owner, Art Modell, in a power struggle.
Five years later Brown returned to football in Cincinnati, where he invested in the AFL’s newly formed Bengals and served as coach, GM and principal owner. Brown worked in Cincinnati until his death in 1991, eventually passing ownership of the franchise over to his son, Mike.
Despite all of his renowned success, it’s easy to trace Brown’s roots back to the genesis of his coaching career as a relentless competitor. Even though he won championships, revolutionized coaching and introduced some of the most cutting-edge play concepts of the time, he would view beating the Browns in 1970, the first year of the AFL-NFL merger, as one of his most satisfying victories.”