PAUL BROWN, THE SUAVE, KEEN-EYED AND SOMEWHAT militant-appearing gentleman on the opposite page, is one of the most controversial men in football. From 1957 through '61 he won more games than any other coach in the NFL, but followers in Cleveland often think of him as a loser. He has been accused, by his own players and others, of using an outmoded, stereotyped offense; actually he is as inventive as any coach in the game today and is responsible for originating ideas about offense that changed the face of defensive football. This year, after four frustrating seasons during which his players have always come close but have not won a conference championship, Brown's Browns are likely to win one. If they do, Brown will be the least surprised man around.
Brown, characteristically, has never bothered to answer his critics, in print or verbally. Nor has he changed his offense or his system. To ignore the attacks of his detractors and the compliments of his admirers has been a Brown trait for almost as long as he has been in football. Early in his pro career Brown summed up his attitude toward the sport. His Browns had just lost a game, and someone offered the high attendance figures as consolation to the coach. "You play this game to win," Brown said morosely. "I would rather win before 10,000 than lose before 80,000."
Brown has enjoyed undoubtedly the most successful coaching career, at all levels, in the history of football. In 11 years his high school teams (Severn Prep and Massillon) won 96 games, lost nine and tied three. At Massillon his teams outscored opponents 3,202 to 339. At Ohio State, from 1941 through '43, Brown won 18 games, lost eight and tied one. His service team, Great Lakes Naval Station, won 15, lost five and tied two in two seasons.
It was while he was coaching at Great Lakes that Brown was persuaded to sign on as head football coach and general manager of the Cleveland Browns of the old All-America Football Conference. On taking the job Brown said, "I am an amateur at heart, and we'll probably be the most amateurish professional football team in the country."
Brown, using almost exactly the same rigid schoolboy approach that had been successful at Massillon and Ohio State, produced not only the most amateurish but also the best professional football team in the country. He proved that conclusively when the All-America Conference folded after the 1949 season—with Cleveland having won four titles in four years—and the Browns, Baltimore Colts and San Francisco 49ers moved into the NFL. "Probably the two most satisfying victories of my life came during the 1950 season," Brown says. "The old-timers thought we had done pretty well in the All-America Conference, but we wouldn't stand a chance against the real pro teams in the NFL."
The first test of strength for the Browns came in the opening game, when they were matched against the Philadelphia Eagles, who the year before had won the NFL championship. The score was 35-10 in favor of the Browns. Then the upstarts finished out their first NFL season by defeating the Los Angeles Rams 30-28 on a frosty afternoon in Cleveland and winning the championship.
There are still many doubters who cannot believe that you can manage a large group of grown professional players with the same dictatorial—and often puritanical—authority that many high schools impose with difficulty on 15-year-olds. Brown is living proof that it not only can be done but can be enormously successful. The gist of Brown's approach is contained in a speech he makes to his squad at the beginning of training camp each year. The speech lasts some three hours. In it Brown explains what he expects from a Cleveland football player physically, mentally and morally. It covers the behavior Brown expects in every phase of life from table manners to open-field blocking. Brown also wants his players to be fit and intelligent. Almost every man on his team has a degree; the ones who do not can earn a bonus by going back to college to acquire one.
It has been seven years since Brown has won a championship. During the last half of this dry spell, it has been rumored increasingly that Brown's cold and seemingly unsympathetic approach to his players has alienated him from some of them. More-persistent criticism of Brown has come from those who say that the mainstream of pro football strategy has passed him by. But Brown, in his lean years, has had problems that no amount of strategy could overcome. Only with new players could he hope to better his won-and-lost record of the past five years, which, after all, has been bad only by his own high standards.
"You know the formula for winning a championship?" he asks. "You finish last for about 10 years in a row, then you get a coach like Vince Lombardi to tie all those first-round draft choices together."
As this season approaches, Cleveland is appearing more and more often as the choice in the Eastern Division. Brown would rather be the underdog, but he isn't exactly displeased with his team. You won't hear that from him now, and if he wins, he won't crow either. Paul Brown will let his record speak for him. As in the past, it should speak eloquently.