Friday, February 28, 2014

Paul Brown Was the Man


Ohio was and is a special place for football.  Football has been hugely popular and important in Ohio high schools and colleges for well over 100 years. Miami of Ohio in Oxford, Ohio, is called the cradle of coaches for its education and development of a long list of great coaches. Ohio State has one of the most storied  football histories of any school in the nation.  The high school teams are legendary as well.  But for many the focal point of football in Ohio is the legacy of Paul Brown.  Brown was a coach who did well at every level.  But for many fans away from the stadiums named after him, they may not even know that the Cleveland Browns were named in his honor.  Brown had such a reputation and popular base in Ohio at the time of the Browns' creation, that the team was named after him before he had ever coached a professional football game.

 In Patrick McCaskey's new book Pillars of the NFL, the lives and careers of the top ten NFL coaches and their teams are examined.  Paul Brown is one of the pillars.  He is one of the greatest NFL coaches in history.  Below we excerpt some of Patrick's book to give potential readers a glimpse at Paul Brown as a high school coach.  Brown brought many of the ideas that he developed in high school coaching to college and the pros.

In 1930, after Brown graduated from Miami University, he took a job teaching at Severn Prep in Maryland whose students would often go on to the Naval Academy in Annapolis.  At Severn, he taught English and History, while coaching football, lacrosse, and track.  Severn’s football team record in the 2 years Brown served was 16–1–1.  When Brown was offered a teaching and coaching position at his alma mater, Washington High School in Massillon, he happily accepted.  Dr. H.W. Bell, the president of the Massillon School Board, who would serve the Browns as their family physician, selected Brown on the recommendation of Dave Stewart.

Poor equipment, old uniforms, rickety stands, and a horrible playing surface greeted Brown on his return to Massillon.  The new coach also inherited an undersized team that got beat up the last half of his first season.  Although it was the midst of the Great Depression, nothing would deter Brown from quickly building a first-class program. 
There was something in Paul Brown’s character that was expansive.  Brown accepted responsibility for the entire athletic department at Washington High School and then became director of athletics for the entire city.  Brown brought team and community together.  Community pride was enhanced as a result of the football program and strengthened more by the connections that Brown was making throughout the entire school system.  Massillon School Superintendent L. J. Smith supported Brown’s athletic efforts.  Brown, on his part, was willing to support all efforts to improve the Massillon schools’ academic performances.  During Brown’s tenure at Washington High School, a Booster Club was formed to help garner even more support for the programs.  In 1938, a new 16,600 seat stadium was built with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds that served Washington High School and others in the community.  Eventually this stadium would be called Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.  The gate receipts from this huge facility improved the financial situation for the Washington High School football team.  Better uniforms and equipment were purchased.  The previous year’s equipment was passed down to each of the junior high schools in Massillon each year.  Stadium receipts also supported extracurricular activities.  Brown saw that the junior high school coaches were high-caliber individuals and that their programs delivered conditioned athletes that fed into the Washington High School program.
Brown groomed athletes to be their best. Rules extended to activities outside the football field. Players were expected to take part in offseason activities. Each practice session was choreographed for maximum effect. Assistant coaches were not just helpers, they played an integral role. Scouting was valued. Athletes needed more than skills and abilities in sport, they needed knowledge.  Brown provided playbooks for each of his athletes.
Brown was innovative, but he took ideas from the best practitioners of the game and adapted their methods and strategies as he saw fit. He was credited with his own inventions—the first football facemask, the first known pass-blocking schemes, and many new plays.  But more than anything else, it was Brown’s penchant for organization that was without rival at every level of play he coached.
Brown used the large Paul Brown Tiger Stadium to his advantage by inviting football powerhouses to come to Massillon and share in a larger gate receipt.  In 9 years at Massillon, Brown amassed a record of 80–8–2, which was good for six consecutive state championships and four national scholastic championships. Brown’s winning percentage was .909. He was a legend in Ohio, the state of football legends, before he ever coached a single college game.

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