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Paul Brown's ranking in ESPN's coaching list forgets history

Bengals founder and former head coach Paul Brown is often identified as the father of modern football. So shouldn't his ranking on ESPN's best coaches in NFL history be higher?

ESPN has completed their greatest coaches in NFL history, naming San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh on Monday as No. 2 and then Vince Lombardi as the greatest -- did we really think it was going to go any other way?

Last week ESPN named Paul Brown No. 6, which, well, is mind-blowing to say the least. Several media personalities around the league scratched their head with Brown being so low.

"But I saw that ESPN just named Paul Brown the sixth-best coach of all time," writes Peter King in his most recent Monday Morning Quarterback offering. "To me, that's like naming Bill Russell the sixth-best basketball player of all time, or Babe Ruth the sixth-best baseball player. Have some respect for history, fellas. Here's a guy whose inventive fingerprints are all over the modern game, whose Cleveland Browns -- another Brown invention -- played in the championship game of their league for 10 straight seasons. Sixth. Riiiiiight."

Albert Breer with the NFL Network offers the same.

How does one measure Paul Brown, who began coaching in 1930 at Severn and famously turned Massillon Washington into a powerhouse. With the Cleveland Browns, Brown won four AAFC titles in four seasons and three NFL championships in 1950, 1954 and 1955 -- not to mention that he appeared in the NFL National Championship game in six of seven seasons from 1950 through 1957.

Additionally Brown's coaching tree consists of names like Weeb Ewbank, Don Shula, Bill Walsh, Bill Johnson and even Chuck Noll was a former player of his. Walsh, Shula and Noll, Paul Brown's disciples, won 11 of the first 25 Super Bowls.

Then there's Paul Brown the innovator.

Some of the practices that are in place today that were started by Brown includes:

  • Calling plays from the sidelines using a messenger system.
  • Putting a radio receiver in the quarterback's helmet.
  • Classroom teaching techniques.
  • Year-round full-time assistant coaching staff.
  • Play books.
  • Practice/Taxi squads.
  • Player grading system based on film.

One of Brown's biggest fans among active coaches today is New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

"Pretty much everything that we do now, he did when he was coaching 30, 40, 50 years ago," Belichick said in 2010. "He’s really the kind of father of professional coaches and the father of professional football. Not that other greats like [George] Halas and so forth… But the way it is now, is the way it was when Paul coached."

This isn't to dispute the great coaches that ESPN has identified, all of whom are worthy of candidacy. Yet perhaps this is a case of eliminating the trivial need for rankings, instead investing our time on the true impact of the great coaches that built the game into what it is today -- which in this case, they did (if you disregard the rankings).