Paul Brown, the suave, keen-eyed and somewhat militant appearing gentleman on the opposite page, is one of the most controversial men in the world of football. During the last five years he has won more games than any other coach in the National Football League, 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. In the operation of his football machine, the Cleveland Browns (he is the only man in pro football to have a team named after him), he is as cold as a Comptometer. At home, between seasons, he is a warm, gregarious man, fond of music, gin rummy, golf and small children. 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. In the past 16 years he has won more championships than any pro coach. "I have never had a team which I felt could not win the championship," he said recently, without self-consciousness. "I feel the same way about this one."
Last year the Browns finished third after a turbulent season in which Milt Plum, the Brown quarterback, complained bitterly because Brown, as usual, called all the offensive plays for the team. Plum has since been traded to the Detroit Lions for Jim Ninowski, an ex-Brown quarterback who declared, when he heard that he was on his way back to Cleveland, that he would rather retire than play for Brown. Paul Brown was "dinged," as he calls it, in the press for being unimaginative and for restricting his quarterback on the use of audible signals. Almost every other quarterback in pro football is allowed to change signals, even those sent in by his coach, if he discovers a radically changed defense awaiting him at the line of scrimmage. Not Brown's quarterback, however—a fact that many Cleveland spectators have found infuriating.
Brown, characteristically, has never bothered to answer his critics, in print or verbally. Nor has he changed his offense or his system. His messenger guards still shuttle back and forth with plays called from the bench. Were it possible. Brown would send in the signals by radio. Several years ago, in fact, he did devise a small receiving set to be worn in the helmet by his quarterback. He had to give up his direct communication system, though, after his signals were intercepted by an opposing team.
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. Playing before a huge crowd, his Browns had just lost a football game—a thing they hardly ever did in those days—and someone offered the attendance figures as consolation to the coach. "You play this game to win," Brown said morosely. "Winning is not bad. I would rather win before 10,000 than lose before 80,000."
September 9, 1962
This capsules Paul Brown's football philosophy neatly, if not completely. In his personal life he enjoys winning and tries hard to beat his friends at everything, particularly gin rummy and golf, but he finds time and uses it for things other than winning and, as often as not, he can even lose graciously. This he cannot do in football, where winning long ago became an obsession, not a joy. Brown's split attitude about winning marks very clearly the basic difference between the Paul Brown of August through December, when he is boss of the Cleveland Browns, and the entirely different human being who bears the same name from December until August, when he is with his family.
Six weeks ago the nonfootball Paul Brown strolled happily through the wide streets of Shaker Heights in the best section of Cleveland. He had just finished a very good dinner cooked by Katy, his wife. Football, the active season, was just a few weeks and 25 miles away. It would begin, as always, at the Browns' training camp in Hiram, Ohio.
Brown walked briskly. He has often been described as a small man, but he is not, except in the context of pro football, where anyone shorter than 6 feet 3 and lighter than 230 pounds is apt to be thought of as a midget.
"I'm 5 feet 11," he had pointed out testily to a photographer during the afternoon. "I am not a small man."
Brown is, however, slender—which gives him the appearance of being small. He has lost his hair and almost always wears a hat. He is carefully groomed and very well dressed, most of the time in a brown ensemble. He looks like a trim, intelligent attorney who probably played football in high school but wasn't quite big enough to make the team at college. This probably is what Paul Brown would have been had he not been infected, early in his life, with a passionate, almost obsessive, love for football.
"I don't remember when that started," Brown said as he strode down the cool, tree-lined street. "I remember very clearly when I first felt it. I was living in Massillon, Ohio, and I was just about to start high school. The Massillon High School football team had a training camp that opened two weeks before school started. I weighed about 100 pounds, but I had always thought that when I started high school I would automatically go to the camp. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't.
"The night before the camp started that year I packed a bag and got ready. I thought somebody would pick me up in the morning and take me out there. Of course, no one showed up. I guess they didn't even know I was alive. I waited all morning with my bag packed, and then I realized they weren't coming for me. I couldn't eat or sleep for the next two days."
Finally, Brown's father, a railroad employee in Massillon, bundled up the youngster and took him to Turkeyfoot Lake, where the Massillon team was training. Dave Stewart, the coach, needed a hundred-pound quarterback like he needed a seventh-string water boy. Why he accepted the skinny 13-year-old no one knows. He did, though.
"More than anyone else, he taught me to love football and to enjoy it," Brown said 40 years later. "I got a lot of my football philosophy from Stewart."
Paul grew from a 100-pound weakling to a 140-pound upstart under Stewart's coaching. He was the regular quarterback for the Massillon team his last two years. So closely did his mind mesh with Stewart's that the coach let Brown make the substitutions from the field during his senior year. The experience, Brown feels, probably started him on his way to coaching.
"I went to Ohio State then," Brown said. He interrupted his story for a moment when two little girls, dragging a reluctant puppy, ran up to him and stopped, waiting expectantly. He fished in his pocket and came up with candy, which he gave them. "I always carry candy for them," he said as the girls ran away. "I've always wished Katy and I had a girl." (They have three sons, all of them at one time or another football players. Peter, 19, is currently a sophomore linebacker at Denison University in Ohio. Mike, 26, a Cleveland lawyer, was first-string quarterback at Dartmouth; and Robin, 29, now a manufacturer in Arkansas, played briefly at Miami in Florida before an injury cut short his career.)
"They didn't want any 140-pound backs at Ohio State," Brown said, resuming his reminiscing. "I stayed there a year and found out I wasn't going to get a chance, and transferred to Miami of Ohio the next year. It cost me a year's eligibility, but I got to play two years of college football."
Brown weighed 154 as quarterback at Miami. Says George Rider, who was athletic director there at the time: "When he played for us he had legs that looked like gas pipes. He was one of the smallest but smartest quarterbacks I've ever seen anyplace."
Brown survived. When he finished at Miami he began, in 1930, what has since become undoubtedly the most successful coaching career, at all levels, in the history of football.
His high school teams (Severn Prep and Massillon) in 11 years won 96 games, lost nine and tied three. At Massillon his teams outscored opponents 3,202 to 339. At Ohio State, from 1941 through 1943, 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 as head football coach and general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Arch Ward, then the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune and a prime mover in the formation of the old All-America Football Conference, induced Brown to give up college football for the pros. Since Mickey McBride, the Cleveland owner, offered Brown $25,000 a year plus 15% of the team's profit and a retainer of $1,000 a month during the rest of Brown's service in the Navy, it did not take much persuasion. Had Brown returned to Ohio State, his salary would have been $9,000 a year.
"In spite of the money, I debated with myself a longtime," Brown said. "I liked college and high school coaching, and I wasn't sure that I would like coaching the pros because I did not know if they would have the same kind of spirit. I'm tickled to death that I took it, though. I suppose if I had been a millionaire I'd have paid to coach. From the beginning I had it in my head like a tune running around in my mind."
On taking the Cleveland job with McBride, 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 the best professional football team in the country. He proved that conclusively when the All-America Conference folded after the 1949 season and the Browns, Baltimore Colts and San Francisco 49ers moved into the National Football League.
"Probably the two most satisfying victories of my life came during the 1950 season," Brown says. "You may remember the feeling in the National Football League then. The oldtimers 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 in the NFL came in the opening game of the regular season, 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. The victory was engineered with typical attention to detail. The Eagles had depended upon a massive five-man line for defense, placing much reliance on Bucko Kilroy, a 280-pound giant at middle guard.
"We began spreading our offensive line a few inches on each play," Brown said, grinning. "Of course, their defensive linemen took post on the shoulder of an offensive man, so they began to spread, too. Before long that big middle guard was isolated over the center with no one in position to help him." The Browns, who had been stopped on the ground, now found it easy to march through the attenuated Eagle defense. This in turn helped set up their tremendous passing game, quarterbacked by Otto Graham.
The Browns finished out their first NFL season by defeating the Los Angeles Rams 30-28 on a gelid afternoon in Cleveland and winning the championship. The NFL doubters were effectively silenced.
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, more than any other man in football, is living proof that it not only can be done, but can be enormously successful. If some of the players don't like the stern regimen that Brown imposes on them, at least they seem to respect him.
The gist of Brown's amateur approach is contained in a speech he makes to the Cleveland squad at the beginning of training camp each year. He rehearsed it in his office some time ago, reading his typed manuscript carefully. He stopped once in a while, peering over the top of the half-moon glasses he wears for paper work, to judge its effect on his listeners. Each year he makes notes on the manuscript, recording the reaction of the squad. Later he writes in small editorial changes to gain more impact. 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.
"We don't want any butchers on this team," part of it goes. "No T shirts in the dining hall. Don't eat with your elbows on the table and eat quietly. We all eat together, every meal, and I want no cliques. I want you to eat at different tables each meal. There is no excuse for missing a meal unless it comes from me. Not an assistant coach or any other official, but from me. I will be at each meal, and I expect you to be."
Brown also warns his players against drinking, smoking and evil companions. "We intend to have good people," he says, "because that's the kind that win the big ones. If you're a drinker or a chaser you'll weaken the team and we don't want you. We're just here for one thing, to win. If I hear you've been drinking, I'll ask you in front of the squad. If you have, you're through. If you have and deny it, you've branded yourself a liar in front of the team.
"You are to watch your dress, your language and the company you keep. When we're traveling, stay away from that stranger who may want to take you to dinner or talk to you in a hotel lobby. Maybe he isn't a gambler or after information, but stay away from him anyway.
"The rules for training camp and on the road are simple. In your room at 10 and lights out at 10:30. Sometimes the coaches make a bed check. There is an automatic fine of $500 for any player who sneaks out after bed check. That sticks, too. I have had to levy fines in the past and I have never rescinded one for subsequent good behavior or meritorious performance."
Brown delivers this speech with deadly seriousness, his blue-gray eyes cold. His own personal habits and table manners are impeccable. He expects the same from his players.
"A few years ago we had a big end," he said after the rehearsal. "I heard he chewed tobacco and spit it on the wall next to his bed. Can you imagine that?"
He peered over his glasses.
"I went to his room," he said. "I told him that I would fine him $500 if he didn't wash down the walls. Then I stood and watched him wash them. Can you imagine living with an animal like that?" The player went on to become All-Pro. Yet there was always, in Brown's mind, a reservation about him.
"If they're sloppy, or drinkers or chasers or whiners, it will show up eventually," he said. "Maybe they can fool us for a little while. Maybe they can even fool themselves. But it will show up eventually, even after they have quit football for good."
Brown is especially unhappy about whiners.
"I don't want a player going home to his wife and complaining," he says. "I don't want wives griping about the treatment of their husbands. A whiner is almost always wrong; if he isn't doing well he knows it and we know it. If he goes home and complains to his wife, she'll make it a big thing, and it shouldn't be. Wives have no place in pro football. If a player is not producing, we'll tell him. I tell the players when they come to camp that the coaches will never raise their voices or curse the players, but we will always let them know where they stand. They know that."
Brown, incidentally, imposes the same restrictions on himself as he does on the team. Although he takes an occasional social drink during the off season, he gives it up entirely—along with gin rummy and golf—from the day he goes to camp until after the Browns play their final game of the season.
A few years ago, during a road trip, a Cleveland official gave a champagne party for Brown to celebrate his birthday. Brown attended only briefly and he refused the champagne.
"I'm going to eat with the team," he told his host. "I insist that they don't drink. So I don't drink either."
Brown 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. Tommy James, one of the Browns' best defensive backs, was given $500 for getting his. Each year Brown has had players take an intelligence test (SI, August 7, 1961); some of the questions:
"If Mr. Lawson pays $65 a month rent and earns a salary of $3,120 a year, what percent of his salary does he pay for rent?
"What is the opposite of diminutive—distraught, large, inductive or reluctant?
"If lemons sell at three for 10¢, how much will a dozen and a half cost?
"If the sequence of numbers is 4, 6, 3, 7, 9, 6, 10 what should be the next number?"
The Browns have been given as many as 126 questions of this kind to answer. Some finish the whole examination. Others skip through and mark down the answers they are sure of.
"No one has ever turned in a perfect score," Paul said. "But the test is helpful in appraising the players, particularly the rookies. Some years ago the test showed that one of our rookies would make a fine carpenter. That's exactly what he eventually became."
While Paul Brown's coaching system requires the quick intelligence of his players, it probably demands less, physically, than any other system in pro football.
"We don't scrimmage," Brown says. "Not in training camp, not during the season. We only work four days a week during the season. I've always thought that a coach who has to scrimmage his team two or three times a week does it only because he doesn't know what else to do. It is not necessary."
Brown splits his squad into four units, each working under an assistant coach. The guards and centers rehearse their assignments under one coach, the tackles under another, the ends under a third and the backfield under a fourth—Brown. Working separately, each unit reruns its assignments in a particular play over and over, so that no time is wasted and every man on the squad is active each minute of the short (hour and a half) practice.
"It's like building a Cadillac," says Brown, who drives one. "You machine the parts to perfection, put them together, tune them and the engine runs."
It has been seven years since Paul Brown has won a national championship. The last time he took a conference title was in 1957. During the last half of this sere and yellow time, it has been rumored increasingly that Brown's cold and seemingly unsympathetic approach to his players has alienated him from some of them. You can, if you look hard enough, find players who worked for Brown and hated him. Most of them have been traded to other clubs for one of the sins, other than lack of ability, that Brown will not countenance: loafing, drinking and chasing women.
Like most good ex-Browns, Otto Graham, whose differences with Brown were more hinted than explicit, respects his former coach for his ability to handle men.
"I remember when we were playing in the old conference," he says. "We had a string of something like 29 games without being beaten. Then we played in San Francisco and we lost 56-28. We scored enough. We just couldn't stop them. It was one of those days when they couldn't do anything wrong. After the game he chewed us out. I mean he really let us have it. He said we'd all be fired—and a lot of other things. Remember, we had gone 29 games without losing. We were all mad when he finished.
"But Brown is a great psychologist. And, you know, we were self-satisfied. The next game we went down to Los Angeles and beat the Dons 61-14. So I guess his chewing us out the way he did accomplished his purpose.
"He did a lot for me," Graham concludes. "Most important, he taught me that if you want to be successful you've got to dedicate yourself and concentrate entirely upon it."
More persistent criticism of Brown has come from those who say that he has become stagnant and the mainstream of pro football strategy has passed him by. Most of this talk has centered around Brown's use of Graham, who was the quarterback for the Browns during the summer of their glory. At Northwestern, before he came to the Browns, Graham had been an inventive signal-caller. For the first two or three years he played under Brown he called a few plays himself. Then Brown, who had analyzed the situation with his customary thoroughness, decided to send in his own plays. This was the beginning of the messenger system developed by Brown, who shuttled in a new guard before every offensive play.
"Brown," Graham said recently, "maintains that a quarterback gets stereotyped in his calls. And that's right. You don't even realize it. Why, when San Francisco had the ball down on our 20, we used to feel certain that Frankie Albert would call the bootleg run-or-pass option, and he usually did."
"Brown's reasoning was sound," Graham feels. "But he failed to realize that he himself could become stereotyped."
Although he disagreed with Brown, Graham did not contravene the calls. Graham now coaches at the Coast Guard Academy and himself sends in many plays to the quarterback. But he tries to do so without undermining the boy's position as a leader. "As to Paul Brown, or any other coach, calling plays," he says, "any quarterback appreciates all the help he can get, from the bench or from the men on the field. But I have always felt that a coach should not call each and every play, especially when he has an experienced quarterback."
Most bothersome to Graham was the fact that he was not permitted to call audibles. "In my years with the Browns," he says, "Brown could never be convinced that audibles were a good thing. So we never really used them."
Consequently, many of the plays sent in by Brown were run against defenses stacked to stop them. Graham admits, however, that the plays rarely lost yardage or were stopped for no gain. The well-oiled, carefully machined Brown offense made sure of that. "We were so well schooled that the plays usually didn't lose yards," says Graham.
But in recent years they didn't always gain much either. An ex-Brown, now on another team, who once played in the offensive line for the Browns, said, "Our quarterback could change a running play one hole to either direction. If you were going inside tackle, you could go outside. Of course, this was only on running plays. There were never any changes on passes. When we were playing the Giants we used to get a play from the messenger guard in the huddle, come out to the line of scrimmage and Andy Robustelli would tell me what the play was. I had a hell of a time blocking Andy when he didn't know the play. What chance did I have when he did?"
Aside from the audibles, Graham, along with many others, thinks that Brown's offense of the last few years could be easily read. "Quite frankly," he says, "this is not just my opinion. You hear others comment on it. And we've all heard those stories about fans sitting in the stands and calling all the plays in advance." (More important, for several years now the Giant defense has seemed to know before the next Brown guard rushed on the field what play he would be carrying.)
For all his criticism, Graham does not consider that Brown has fallen behind the course of football. "Actually, when I played, other teams were always making changes to keep up with us. We were the first to use the sideline pass as much as we did. (It was this play that beat Los Angeles in 1950.) When other coaches caught up with Brown, he would change. You're just stupid in pro football if you don't, and Brown is anything but stupid. That stuff about his being behind the times is just 'paper talk.' I don't think the other teams have passed him."
Graham may be closer to the truth than even he realizes. Brown, in his lean years, has not answered his critics or defended himself, but his team 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 Brown's own high standards. Only the Giants have won more often.
"They ding you all the time," he said the other day. "They don't understand and I don't have time to explain the details to them."
Then, in a relaxed mood, Brown added: "You need all the weapons in this league. It is reaching the point now where you must have a quarterback who can throw long or short, pick up late-opening receivers and run."
Milt Plum, last year's quarterback, conspicuously lacked at least two of these talents. He was not a good runner and he did not have the wide, all-encompassing peripheral vision of a Graham or a Norman Van Brocklin. Neither did he have their patience, so he did not pick up the late-opening receivers in the Brown passing attack who come open at one-second intervals for some five seconds. That's why most of his pass completions were short, to the first pass catchers who opened up.
The second limiting factor in the Brown offense was Bobby Mitchell. Although Brown never criticized Mitchell publicly, it was Mitchell, at least in part, who caused Cleveland's running game to become stereotyped. Jim Brown, the exemplary fullback, could run inside or out magnificently. But Mitchell, a wonderful broken-field runner, had the well-earned reputation of being a fumbler any time he carried the ball inside tackle on a quick opening play. This meant that the Giants, for instance, knowing that Plum could not throw an effective deep pass and Mitchell would not run inside, could assign a linebacker like Sam Huff to cover Jim Brown wherever he went. Ignoring Mitchell's faking inside and conceding the deep receivers, the Giants knew that the area they had to cover was radically decreased.
To remedy the situation, in the off season Coach Brown, a shrewd trader, sent Plum, Halfback Tom Watkins and Linebacker Dave Lloyd to Detroit for Jim Ninowski, Halfback Hopalong Cassady and Bill Glass, a defensive end. In Ninowski he feels he has a quarterback who can run well and who has the patience and peripheral vision to use Cleveland's careful pass patterns to their best advantage. Ninowski, despite his first reluctance to return to Brown, now is happy as the No. 1 quarterback.
In another trade, Brown dispatched Bobby Mitchell and first-draft-choice Leroy Jackson to Washington for rookie Ernie Davis, the most sought-after college player from last year. Davis, Brown believed, would give him a threat to the inside or outside, but illness has sidelined Davis. Fortuitously, Brown also got Tom Wilson from the Rams, thinking Wilson could fill in for Davis while the ex-Syracusan learned the ways of pro ball and support him later. Wilson, a vicious blocker, has looked so good in exhibition games that the trade may prove one of Brown's best ever.
More backfield help
In the same trade that brought Wilson to Cleveland, Brown acquired Quarterback Frank Ryan, a Phi Beta Kappa from Rice, to understudy Ninowski. Finally from Pittsburgh he got Charley Scales, a hard-running fullback who will give the Browns depth at that position for the first time in some years, and will make it possible to rest the hard-worked Jimmy Brown occasionally.
Paul Brown, apparently, has listened to at least some of his critics. After he had seen Ninowski in practice, he announced: "I'm going to let Ninowski call the signals for himself at the beginning of the game." To assure those around him that he hadn't really gone soft, he added a lengthy explanation: "I still think a coach can do a better job, for several reasons. One, the defenses change so many times before the ball is snapped that, when the quarterback guesses with the defensive signal-caller, he has to change two or three times at the line of scrimmage and has as much chance to be wrong as I do from the sideline, and with less information. Also, when I call the play from the sideline, I have two coaches on a telephone hookup in the stands who know what the play is, watch the players in their bailiwick and can tell me how they performed. If the quarterback called the signal, we wouldn't know what the play was and wouldn't know what each player should have done. Now, if a play fails, one of my assistants may say to me on the phone, 'Don't file it. The guard missed his block.'
"But there is one thing that a quarterback can do by calling his own signals. He can infect the team with his personality and give you a certain exuberance. I think Ninowski can do that for us. That's why he'll call the signals, at least part of the time."
In his quiet way, Brown seems confident, and he certainly has good reason. The addition of Wilson in the backfield gives him better blocking than he has had in some time, a more varied running attack and a "big back" backfield that is reasonably comparable to Green Bay's. His offense has been varied in early preseason games and no one so far has successfully guessed the plays before the Browns have actually begun to execute them.
Successful to a fault
The competition in the Eastern Division appears to be weaker this year than it has been the past few seasons. The general level of excellence is there, but the archrivals of the Browns—the Giants—are beginning to show some of the signs of age and have had a rash of crippling injuries where they most needed help. Too, the Giants, like the Browns, have suffered the penalty of success: a dearth of good young talent which comes with drafting last or close to it each year. The late draft choices that fall to the top teams year after year make it hard to replace aging veterans. This, according to Brown, is one of the difficulties he has had to face in trying to win another league championship.
"You know the formula for winning a championship?" he asked recently. "You finish last for about 10 years in a row, then you get a coach like Vince Lombardi to tie all those first draft choices together."
Reasonably enough, as this season approaches, Cleveland is appearing more and more often as the choice in the Eastern Division in the opinions of experts. Brown would rather be the underdog, but he isn't exactly displeased with the way things have been going for his team in training. 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.