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ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.
Paul Brown, the first coach of the Cleveland Browns, turned the organization into a dynasty and is credited with numerous innovations that made the coaching profession what it is today.
Brown was the first to hire a full-time coaching staff that worked year-round, and he took the scouting of college players to a new level. Brown, who had a teaching background, also used extensive film study of his players and graded them. He called plays from the sideline, using alternating guards to shuttle information to the field.
Brown also helped integrate professional football. Defensive lineman Bill Willis and running back Marion Motley were two of the first African-Americans to play professional football after they joined the Browns in 1946.
Brown had already been a successful coach of his high school alma mater, Washington High in Massillon, Ohio, college (Ohio State) and military teams when the Browns began playing in the All-America Football Conference in 1946. With Brown as general manager and coach, the team named after him dominated the league. The Browns went 47-4-3 in the regular season, including a 14-0 campaign in 1948, and 5-0 in the postseason, winning all four AAFC titles before the league's surviving teams merged with the NFL in 1950.
The Browns didn't miss a beat, winning the championship in their first NFL season. And that was just the start. They reached the championship game seven times in their first eight seasons in the NFL. They won additional titles in 1954 and '55, bringing Brown's total to a record seven championships.
After Art Modell bought the team in 1961, he and Brown had frequent conflicts over Brown's level of control. In January 1963, Brown was fired. During his 17 seasons in Cleveland, the Browns finished under .500 just once.
Brown was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, but his career was not finished. When the AFL put a franchise in Cincinnati in 1968, Brown came on board as an investor, coach and general manager. Brown had the Bengals in the playoffs by their third season, their first after the NFL merger, and took them to two more postseasons before he retired after the 1975 season. When the Bengals opened their new stadium in 2000, it was named after Brown.
Among the coaches who played or worked under Brown are such heavyweights as Don Shula, Blanton Collier, Weeb Ewbank, Bill Walsh and Chuck Noll.
-- Shawna Seed
I was brought up on Paul Brown football. I played college ball at John Carroll, a small school outside Cleveland. I think our coach, Herb Eisele, went to every clinic that Paul Brown ever had. Our terminology was same terminology that the Browns used, although obviously a lot simpler.
|Paul Brown's teaching background served him well during his 25 seasons as a professional head coach.|
When I was drafted by the Browns, it was just a continuation of the same Paul Brown system, just a lot more sophisticated. Then I got traded to the Baltimore Colts, and the coach there, Weeb Ewbank, was a Brown guy, too. My 33 years [as an NFL head coach], that was pretty much from the Paul Brown playbook. Chuck Noll, same thing. He took it and did some pretty good things in Pittsburgh, won four Super Bowls.
He [Brown] was a quarterback in college, but he wasn't a very big man. He was just a classroom teacher, that was his strength. He was smart. He hired good people, and those assistants were usually good communicators.
Paul Brown knew how to be the boss, and that was another thing he was good at. To be a successful head coach, you have to have a lot of self-confidence, you have to believe in yourself. And be able to teach. You could have all the skill and knowledge that there is about that game, but if you can't transmit it to the people you're responsible for, it's not doing you any good.
-- Former Browns defensive back and Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, as told to Greg Garber
ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.