Brown: football's modern man Cincinnati owner dies at 82, ending an era of innovation

August 06, 1991|By Vito Stellino

"My methods had brought us unmatched success, both on the field and at the bank, so there was no reason to question anything I did."

Paul Brown in "PB: The Paul Brown Story" There are very few men who could make such a bold statement in any profession.

Paul Brown, the man who modernized pro football and became the central figure in a bitter feud that lasted the past three decades, earned the right to say his methods couldn't be questioned.

Brown, who died at his home in Cincinnati yesterday at age 82 from complications caused by pneumonia, left a legacy that will be remembered as long as pro football is played.

Along with the late George Halas, who helped found the game in a Canton, Ohio, auto showroom in 1920, Brown was one of the two most significant coaches in pro football history.

Wellington Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants, was one of the many pro football men who reminisced about Brown yesterday. He said it was appropriate that Brown loved to play golf.

"Tom Landry [former Dallas Cowboys coach] said when you play against Paul Brown, it was like playing against par," Brown said.

It was Brown who set the standard of the modern game.

"He set a whole new tempo," Mara said. "He drove the other coaches to try to stay with him."

Dan Rooney, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, remembered when the Steelers first played the Cleveland Browns in an exhibition game in the early 1950s and the Steelers still used the single-wing offense.

"We were trying to cover with squatty little linebackers who were great against the run, but didn't have much speed. They killed us. It was like shooting ducks. Paul was really an innovator," Rooney said.

Brown's sophisticated passing offense changed the way the game was played. "It was a fun time when we talked about football rather than what everybody is making and holdouts and things like that," Rooney said.

A native of Norwalk, Ohio, Brown won on every level in a career that began at Severn Prep in Annapolis in 1930, where he coached and taught history, English grammar and English literature for $1,200 a year. He was 16-1-1 there and went on to win four high school national championships at Massillon, Ohio, and the 1942 national collegiate championship at Ohio State.

After coaching the wartime Great Lakes Naval Station team in 1944-45, he founded the Browns -- a team on which he put his name and his stamp -- in 1946 in the old All-America Football Conference and became a legend.

The Browns made the championship game for the first 10 years of their existence and won seven titles -- four in the All-America Football Conference and three in the National Football League, which the team entered in 1950.

Along the way, he brought the game out of its horse-and-buggy era, starting the film study and classroom work that is now standard operating procedure in pro football.

At the peak of his career in 1962, he was fired by Art Modell, who had purchased the team in 1960, in one of the most controversial moves in pro football history.

Brown never hid the fact that he was bitter about the firing. Seventeen years later, when he published his autobiography, "PB," he was so critical of Modell that he was fined about $10,000 by then-commissioner Pete Rozelle.

Among other things, Brown wrote: "Art was not a football person. I resented his lack of knowledge in the football world." He also wrote Modell "became an instant expert in a business he knew virtually nothing about."

Brown said Modell wanted him to put the late Ernie Davis in the lineup when he was dying and undermined the coaches by hobnobbing with the players and buying them drinks and dinner.

Modell said yesterday that he hadn't decided whether he would attend Brown's funeral tomorrow in Massillon, but said the Browns would be well-represented and added, "There is no question he [Brown] started a great love affair between the city of Cleveland and the franchise."

Brown returned to the game in 1968 as founder and coach of an expansion team, the Cincinnati Bengals. It took him only three years to get the team into the playoffs.

He retired as a head coach after the 1975 season, making the announcement on New Year's Day, when it would be obscured by the college bowl games. He left with an overall coaching record of 351-134-15.

Although he turned much of the day-to-day operation of the team over to his son, Mike, he was still active in the league as a member of the competition committee.

More than 50 of Brown's former players and assistants became head coaches, including Chuck Noll, who coached the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s, Bill Walsh, who coached the San Francisco 49ers to three of their four Super Bowls in the 1990s, Don Shula, who coached the Miami Dolphins to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, and Weeb Ewbank, who won titles in the American Football League and NFL.

When the owners deadlocked on the choice of a commissioner to replace Bert Bell in 1960, Brown helped persuade Rozelle, then 33, to take the job.

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