Winning ways, stability come to an end in 1970s Subpar records, changing coaches mark decade

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November 10, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

The 1970s signaled the end of the Cleveland Browns dynasty that once featured Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Marion Motley and Lou Groza.

Through the Browns' first 25 years, Paul Brown and Blanton Collier were the team's only head coaches. The club had five in the 1970s -- Collier (his last year), Nick Skorich, Forrest Gregg, Dick Modzelewski (one game only) and Sam Rutigliano.

Before 1974, the Browns had had only one losing season (5-7 in 1956) in their glorious history. In the 1970s, they had three losing seasons and .500 records in two others. They didn't win a championship and made the playoffs only twice, losing to the Baltimore Colts in 1971 and the Miami Dolphins in 1972.

The decade began with the Browns switching from the NFL's Century Division to the AFC Central -- and making one of their worst personnel moves.

All-Pro wide receiver Paul Warfield was traded to Miami for a draft choice, with which Cleveland picked Mike Phipps. Phipps never became a first-rate quarterback.

After the Browns struggled to 7-7 in 1970, Collier, 65, retired.

"I want to go out under my own power," Collier said. "I don't want my coach's clothes cut off me."

One of the first things new coach Skorich felt compelled to do was demote wide receiver Gary Collins to second string. The former Maryland star was a 10-year man, the MVP of the '64 championship game, when he caught three touchdown passes and did the punting. But late in the 1971 season, Collins found himself backing up the younger, faster Frank Pitts.

"It's the mark of a pro to take the bad when it comes," Collins said then. "There was a time when I first stepped in, too, and Ray Renfro was in the same position I'm in now."

Owner Art Modell was so pleased with Skorich's first two seasons (9-5, 10-4) that he gave him a three-year contract. Two years later, Skorich was dismissed in favor of Gregg.

When the Browns lost their first nine games in 1975 and finished 3-11, Gregg said, "If I had a nightmare, I couldn't have dreamt anything this bad."

After one winning season in three, Gregg quit. Rutigliano, in his second year, 1979, had a group that became known as the Kardiac Kids. The Browns won, or lost, with last-minute dramatics.

With Brian Sipe at quarterback, the Browns edged the New York Jets in overtime, then beat the Kansas City Chiefs with 52 seconds left after wasting a 20-0 lead.

The Colts fell on Don Cockroft's field goal with 1:51 remaining, but the Washington Redskins beat the Browns with 27 seconds left. Cleveland defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 28-27, then, trailing the Philadelphia Eagles, 19-10, scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes to win, 24-19.

"This team," Rutigliano said, "has a lot of character."

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