From the Stacks: Paul Brown and the Cradle of Coaches

Paul Eugene Brown was born on September 7, 1908 in Norwalk, Ohio, where he lived with his parents Lester and Ida until he was nine years old.  At this time his father, who was a railroad dispatcher in Norwalk, was transferred to Massillon, Ohio.  At Washington High School in Massillon Brown played football, basketball, baseball and also ran track.  Despite the fact that he was small, he was a two year starter at quarterback for Dave Stewart and the Washington Tigers.  As a starting quarterback Brown led the Tigers to a 15-3 record in two years.

In the fall of 1926, after graduating high school, Paul Brown enrolled at Ohio State University with the dream of suiting up for the Buckeyes football team.  However, this dream came to an abrupt end when an assistant coach told him he was too small and was not even allowed to try out for the team.  His time in Columbus only lasted one year and he transferred to Miami University that next fall.  Fortunately for Brown, Chester Pittser and the Miami coaching staff did not find him to be too small, and allowed him onto the team.  Due to injuries, Brown was named the starting quarterback his junior year and never let go of it.  He guided the Redskins to records of 6-2 as a junior, and 7-2 as a senior.  During Brown’s time at Miami he also joined a fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and played centerfield on the baseball team.  After his senior year Brown qualified for a Rhodes scholarship, but, due to the depression, chose to take a teaching/coaching position at Severn Prep in Maryland instead.

Severn Prep was a high school in Maryland that primarily prepared students for a career in the U.S. Navy.  He taught history, English grammar and English literature and coached football and lacrosse, while his wife, Katie, worked as a nurse.  He also started a track and field program, and coached that as well.   Brown was only at Severn for two seasons, 1930 and 1931 with a record of 12-2-1 with a State Championship in 1930.

After the 1931 season the head coaching job in Massillon, Brown’s alma mater, became available.  After a ringing endorsement from Dave Stewart, Brown was named their next head coach.  So in 1932 he returned to his hometown and would stay there for the next nine years.  When Brown got to Massillon the team was coming off a 2-10 season, and he knew the team had a long way to go.  While they improved to 5-4-1 in his first year, it was still well below his standards.  In 1933 they improved to 8-2, and again to 9-1 in 1934.  In 1934 Brown was named athletic director in addition to his coaching duties.  From 1935 to 1940 Brown’s Tigers won 58 games, including 35 straight wins, 6 state championships and 4 national championships.  His final record at Washington High School was 80-8-2.  Due to the success of the team, in 1937 they were able to afford to build a new stadium.  This was later renamed to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

Letter from Brown to Miami University's President, Dr. Hahn.

Letter from Brown to Miami University’s President, Dr. Hahn.

While at Massillon, Brown invented the playbook.  He gave every player a ring notebook to help memorize the plays.  He believed that the playing field was only a part of learning football.  He was also the first to use hand signals to call plays.  Back then the quarterback called the plays, and Brown felt that he had a better idea of what was going on, and developed hand signals to call the plays himself.  This later developed into a messenger system of having a player (in this case guards) running the plays into the quarterback, which is still widely used in high school and college.

In 1940 Brown became the youngest coach in Big Ten history and took over as head coach of Ohio State University (this record was recently surpassed by Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern who was hired at 31 years old in 2006).  Brown stayed in Columbus for three seasons with a record of 18-8-1, and a National Championship in 1942, the first in Ohio State’s storied history.

Due to World War II Brown was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Academy, in Chicago, and took up the head coaching position for their football team.  In his two years at Great Lakes his teams went 15-5-2 with a memorable victory over Notre Dame in 1945.  While in Chicago, Brown was stationed with future successful head coaches Weeb Ewbank, who served on his coaching staff, and Ara Parseghian and Bud Grant, who were both players on the team.

1943 Great Lakes team with Weeb Ewbank (bottom row, 2nd from left), Brown (bottom row3rd from left) and Ara Parseghian (#27).

1943 Great Lakes team with Weeb Ewbank (bottom row, 2nd from left), Brown (bottom row3rd from left) and Ara Parseghian (#27).

While things were wrapping up at Great Lakes, Brown was approached by Arch Ward about coaching a professional football team in Cleveland, in the new All-American Football Conference (AAFC).  He was hesitant at first but eventually accepted the position to coach the Cleveland Browns.  The Browns won the AAFC league championship all four years of its existence, 1946-1949.  After the 1949 season the AAFC disassembled and the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers joined the NFL.

In 1950, Cleveland’s first year in the NFL, they won the league championship, making it five straight championships.  From 1946 to 1955, they won titles 7 out of 10 years and were runners up the other three years.  In 1962, due to conflict with Browns owner Art Modell, Paul Brown was fired as the head coach.  In his 17 season with the Browns they amassed a record of 158-48-8, with 7 league championships, and 11 division titles.

A page from Brown's 1954 Cleveland Brown's Playbook

A page from Brown’s 1954 Cleveland Brown’s Playbook

While Brown was unemployed he was approached to coach numerous teams but declined, because he didn’t feel like they were the right situations for him.  This changed when he met with one of his former Ohio State players, Bill Hackett.  This meeting laid the groundwork for the forming of the Cincinnati Bengals.

During the process of forming the Bengals, there were two professional football leagues, the NFL, and the AFL.  Brown was only interested in joining the NFL and even though the AFL and NFL had already agreed to merge, it had not happened yet.  Since Brown had ties with both leagues he played an integral part in the terms of the merger between the two leagues.  The process was not smooth, but they officially joined the AFL in 1967, and played their first game in 1968.  Two seasons later, the merger was finalized and they joined the NFL as one of two expansion teams, the other being the New Orleans Saints.

1968 Cincinnati Bengals team photo with signatures.

1968 Cincinnati Bengals team photo with signatures.

In his six seasons with the Bengals in the NFL, Coach Brown went 48-36-0 winning two division championships.  However, they failed to win a playoff game in those six years.  After the 1975 season Paul Brown stepped down as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, but stayed on as team President until his death on August 5th, 1991.

In 45 years of coaching Paul Brown was 338-127-15, which equates to a winning 72% of his games.  He won 7 league championships (4 in the AAFC and 3 in the NFL), 1 NCAA championship (1942 Ohio State), 4 high school national championships, and 7 state championships (6 in Ohio, 1 in Maryland).  His 213 professional football wins currently rank him 5th all time, and his 66.7% place him 9th (minimum 100 games coached).  He was named Coach of the Year in 1957, 1969 and 1970 and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1967 (one year before the Bengals joined the AFL).  In 2000, the Bengals built a new stadium on the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati and named it Paul Brown Stadium.  Brown is credited with the invention of the playbook, hand signals, the draw play, the face mask and was instrumental in developing the West Coast Offense with Bill Walsh while in Cincinnati.  After his death Paul Brown was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Massillon, Ohio.

1973 Cincinnati Bengals Team

1973 Cincinnati Bengals Team

Miami University has materials from the span of Brown’s coaching career, from his playing days at Miami, to Massillon, Cleveland, Cincinnati and his death.  These items consist of newspaper clippings, playbooks, sound recordings, and correspondences.  Throughout the article are various images of items from the Paul Brown Collection, as part of the Cradle of Coaches Collection in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections.

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