Paul Brown 'professionalized pro football' Father of modern offense was regimented, respected and sometimes reviled

Greatest coach

November 10, 1995|By Drake Witham | Drake Witham,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The Cleveland Browns won the first All-America Football Conference title Dec. 22, 1946, but an incident the day before had a bigger impact on the team that would dominate professional football for the next 10 years.

Coach Paul Brown found out that team captain Ed Daniell and two other players had been arrested and charged with disorderly conduct at 2:30 Saturday morning. Receiver Dante Lavelli still remembers what happened as the Browns gathered for their Saturday practice.

"He canned [Daniell] right there in front of the whole team," Lavelli said. That Brown would kick a captain off the team, someone who had played for him at Ohio State, the day before the championship, let the rest of the team know that he was serious about winning, Lavelli said.

And win they did, taking the only four AAFC title games ever played and capturing the NFL title in 1950, their first year in the league.

Of course, anyone who didn't know Brown was serious about football wasn't paying attention. He forbade players from wearing T-shirts in training camp and from drinking in public during the season.

"He was very regimented," Lavelli said of Brown, who died in August 1991 at the age of 82. "We had to run onto the field lined up a certain way and hit the white line with the left foot. It was like the army."

Brown also was blessed with talent. He called quarterback Otto Graham the best player he ever coached. Marion Motley led the team in rushing, Bill Willis was a defensive line star, and ends Mac Speedie and Lavelli were the two best targets in the league.

"It was partly talent and partly preparation," Lavelli said. "He wasn't afraid to experiment with different ideas."

Those ideas earned Brown the reputation as the father of the modern offense. He introduced precision pass routes, grading players and plays, full-time coaching staffs and sending plays in with messenger guards.

"He evaluated us with movies. We had playbooks before anyone," said kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza. "He professionalized pro football."

The Browns were a success at the gate as well. A year after the NFL champion Cleveland Rams had drawn only 73,000 fans all season, the Browns entered the AAFC and packed in 48,500 per game. And it was worth the price of admission as the Browns went 12-2 and 12-1-1 in their first two seasons, beating the New York Yankees for the title each time. In 1948 they were 14-0 and thrashed Buffalo, 49-7, for the title.

The Browns carried a 29-game unbeaten streak to San Francisco on Oct. 9, 1949. They got smashed, 56-28, and Brown was livid.

"Everything went wrong," Lavelli said. "He told us 'If you guys go out tonight I'll fine you.' But he never held a grudge. He just said 'We're gonna start over,' and we did."

The Browns went unbeaten the rest of the way, defeating the 49ers in a snowy Cleveland Stadium for the championship. The next season the AAFC merged with the NFL and the Browns didn't miss a beat. In their first NFL game -- Sept. 16, 1950 -- they handed the Philadelphia Eagles a 35-10 defeat.

Cleveland went on to a 10-2 record. The Los Angeles Rams, who had left Cleveland after the 1945 season, met the Browns in the title game. The Browns won, 30-28, by scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter, including Groza's field goal with 28 seconds left.

In each of the next three seasons, Cleveland advanced to the title game but lost. The Browns brought the championship back to Cleveland in 1954 with a 56-10 victory over the Detroit Lions.

Graham retired after the season, but when the team performed poorly in the preseason, Brown coaxed Graham to return. The Browns went on to win their second consecutive title and third NFL championship.

Without Graham in 1956, Cleveland suffered its first losing season. It improved to 9-2-1 in 1957, when Brown changed his offense to suit rookie running back Jim Brown. It reached the title game but lost, 59-14, to the Lions, who exposed a flaw in the Cleveland offense.

LTC The Lions focused on shutting down Jim Brown and forced weak-armed quarterback Milt Plum to pass. Other teams started doing the same. Cleveland failed to make the playoffs in 1959 and 1960, and players began complaining about Paul Brown's strict rules. Jim Brown, in particular, said the coach was too critical, and Plum was frustrated that Paul Brown insisted on calling the plays.

Art Modell bought the team in 1961 and shocked Cleveland when he fired Paul Brown after a 7-6-1 season in 1962. Modell said he wanted someone who could better relate to players.

"The only thing it did was show that after you lose the discipline and the regimentation, you don't win as often," Lavelli said.

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