Although we like to give ESPN a hard time around here, every once and a while they end up coming through with a neat series or article that really makes you appreciate the history of the NFL. In this case, it's their countdown of the top-20 greatest NFL coaches, a series striving to honor the 100th anniversary of legendary coach Vince Lombardi's birthday by "saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines." Pretty cool idea.
And where there's a list of the top NFL coaches of all time, Paul Brown's name is sure to be found. On Thursday, that notion proved to be correct, as Brown finally made his appearance on the list, coming in as the 6th greatest NFL coach of all time.
So what made Brown so special? Only the fact that coaching as we know it today in the NFL essentially stems directly from his influence.
Paul Brown was an innovator in every sense of the word. A school teacher by nature, Brown became the first head coach of the AAFC Cleveland Browns, and drastically altered the way his team approached the game by instituting classroom study in addition to normal on-field practices. He was the first head coach to really utilize film study to prepare for other teams and grade his own players, as well as the first to hire a full-time coaching staff that worked year-round. Prior to Paul Brown, these mainstays of the modern game were unheard of, but his success eventually drove the rest of the league to adopt his forward-thinking style.
And speaking of success, during his stint with the Browns, Paul Brown led his team to an incredible 47-4-3 regular season record in the All-America Football Conference, winning all four AAFC title games before his team merged with the larger National Football League in 1950. But even facing stiffer competition in the NFL, the Browns continued their dominating ways, capturing titles in 1951, 1954, and 1955. In fact, during his first eight years in the NFL, Browns' squad only failed to make the championship game once. Not too bad for an expansion team.
Of course, as is the case with all good things, they must eventually come to an end, and that's exactly what happened in 1963 when then-Browns' owner Art Modell fired Brown due to philosophical differences. Luckily for us Bengals fans, Brown didn't stay down and out for long. In 1968 when the AFL announced the addition of a franchise in Cincinnati, Brown "came on board as an investor, coach and general manager," ultimately securing the rights to the team and leading them to three postseason appearances before retiring in 1975. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Looking around the NFL today, it's easy to spot Paul Browns' fingerprints. Film study, the way practices are conducted, heck even the draw play. All stem from Paul Brown and all still a major part of modern football.
He might not have a trophy named after him like Vince Lombardi, but an entire NFL franchise and a stadium aren't too bad either.