There he is, Paul Brown, stalking the sideline, getting ready to send in another play, to push the button to put his Cincinnati Bengal robots into motion. Clink, clank, whistle. Another button. Clink, clank, whistle. In Cleveland they may still believe that's the way cold, aloof, mechanical, stereotyped Paul Brown operates. They're wrong.
"Coach," says Bob Trumpy, the tight end, "that Denver strong safety is taking me all the way and he isn't too fast."
"Bob," says Brown, "do you want to give it a whirl?"
"Yeah, let's go."
September 14, 1969
Then Brown sends in the play. Greg Cook, the rookie quarterback, drops back seven yards to his own 14, puts the ball in the air. The strong safety isn't that fast. Trumpy catches the ball on the Denver 44 and goes in to score.
Now the game is over, and the Bengals have won 13-11, to close their exhibition season with three straight victories after two losses. In the field house Brown stands among his laughing players, shaking his head. It had rained early in the game and his suit is a mess, his shoes are muddy. "Look at me," he says with mock despair. "Now you see the real, cold, brutal Paul Brown." And even he has to laugh. "Now you see why coaching is a way of life to me. It's great to coach a team that's fighting for its life, kids that are exuberant and have this real joy of playing. Look at these kids. It's great."
Bill Bergey, the rookie linebacker, waves as he heads toward the door. "Real nice game, coach."
"Hey, you played the game, not me," Brown yells. Then he adds softly, "Isn't that refreshing? What a kid! Sure, I still call the plays, but it isn't such a cold business as people think. The Paul Brown that everybody talks about isn't the real Paul Brown. That one is just a figment of the New York writers' imagination, created when the Browns and the Giants were in their heyday."
And that is as close as Paul Brown ever comes to defending himself against the critics who forced him into exile almost seven years ago. If he was bitter at being fired by Cleveland, where he won four All-America Conference and three NFL championships, he hid it. "Bitter people bore me," he says. "They say football passed me by, and I say that time has the answer for everything. And I'll also say that going into our second year at Cincinnati our schedule is running right on time."
And what is the schedule?
"Well, right now I don't want to say," he says, "but I'll tell you this: last year I was talking to Tex Schramm of the Dallas Cowboys. I told him, 'You've been in it nine years and you haven't won it yet.' I intend to win the turkey a whole lot sooner than that." Brown has been turkey hunting since 1962, when the Browns told him to clean out his locker. Like Napoleon at Elba, he spent his years in exile mapping the campaign for his return. "I wasn't even sure if I'd come back," he says. "But if I did come back, I knew exactly what I wanted."
First, he wanted to come back as an owner. "I left as an owner [he had 7% of the Browns] and I refused to come back as anything less." Second, he demanded absolute control. "There is no other way for a team to operate and be a winner."
Four pro teams offered Brown the job as head coach, and four times he said no. He must have had faith in his convictions because outside of football life for Paul Brown is meaningless. He was living in luxury and he was suffocating.
With the Bengals, Brown is in complete control. He's a part owner (about 10%) and, as one club official puts it, "In this organization there is only one vote and Paul has it." He is the coach and general manager and he has the last word in everything from ordering pencils to appointments on the board of directors.
Brown began building the Bengals as he built the Browns—from scratch—23 years ago. Also, he believes, better. "Something is wrong if you don't do better the second time around," he says. He even dug out the two-hour speech he used to read to the Browns the first day in camp. Only for the Bengals, after the part that goes, "It isn't going to take me long to recognize the tramp, the boozer, the barroom bum, the chaser...," he added, "We may be an expansion team but we aren't going to be the Foreign Legion. A selfish player is like cancer and we'll soon cut him out."
Brown had decided he wouldn't follow other expansion teams into the quicksand by trying to build with veterans. "Historically," he says, "every expansion team has had to junk what it started with and rebuild the second year and then, sometimes, rebuild again."
When the Bengals were founded, Brown got to select one player from each club, except Miami, after the first 29 players were frozen. Then two more were frozen. Then Brown got two more. Another frozen. Another for Brown. Then, if you can believe this, each club was allowed to pick one player to give to the Bengals. "We knew we weren't going to get much," he says. "The bad knees and the bad heads. But we tried to get as many young ones as we could. We got all the old players when they gave us that fifth player."
The bad knees, bad heads and old players were quickly gone. Of the 40 original selections only seven are still with the club. For the most part Brown used his rookies, starting as many as eight on offense and five on defense, and still the Bengals won three games last year.
Against Denver last Saturday, Brown started 20 players with three years or less experience, 14 with one year or less. Only Ernie Wright, an offensive tackle, and Bobby Hunt, a safety, qualify as elders and they are 29. Brown always has been a fine judge of young talent. Last year in the college draft he selected Center Bob Johnson and Defensive Tackle Bill Staley as his first and second picks and Running Back Paul Robinson as one of three No. 3 choices. All had exceptional seasons, and Robinson was Rookie of the Year. This year Brown's first two choices were Cook and Bergey, and both are outstanding.
"We're not there yet," says Brown. "We still need some blue-chippers from the draft next year. But those boys are the pillars with which you build championship teams. I have a pretty good idea what it takes to be a winner, not just once but often. You build on the pillars. You start with Johnson. He's the leadership type, the kind you need. Did you see us asking him what kind of play he thought would go? Cook is a bright kid and a good boy. Although he may not know it, he's still three years away from being a real fine quarterback, but he will be."
Paul Brown is 61, and there has been no banking of the fires that have burned within him since his first coaching job at Severn (Md.) Prep in 1930 and that have produced 299 wins and 15 ties in 400 high-school, college and pro games.
"I ask nothing of my players that I wouldn't ask of my three sons," he says. He demands that they don't drink and then he gives up his dry martinis (and his golf and gin rummy) from the beginning of each season to the end. "Paul Brown," says Bob Johnson, "is a man of the true American spirit. He believes that if you do your job you'll be paid accordingly. There is no touch of communism in his outlook. He looks you in the eye, tells you what to do and that's it. Handle your responsibilities like a man and he's easy to get along with. If you are straightforward and hardworking you'll be happy here. He is without prejudice. You also know you can't lose because of his incompetence. He is thorough and scientific. We know we lost 11 games last year because it was our fault, not his."
In Brown's office in the Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati there is no hint of past glories, nothing to tell a visitor that the man ever existed before 1967. In one corner is a four-foot trophy awarded to the Bengals for being the best expansion team in 1968. "But," protests Mike Brown, the second oldest son and the assistant general manager, "we were the only expansion club last year." A citation naming Paul Brown as Cincinnati's Citizen for the Day—Aug. 3, 1968—hangs on the wall. "It's there," says Mike, "because somebody sneaked into the office and tacked it up when no one was around."
"I have a lot of stuff tucked away in boxes," says Paul Brown, "and I guess I could have a great big trophy room somewhere. But football is more than the accomplishments of one man, of one player. It's a team game. What an individual does as an individual is not important. It's what he does for the team. The only thing that counts in football is what's on the scoreboard. And everyone has to feel that way—the coaches, the players. It's the only way you can win the big brass ring."
And Brown has made believers of his kids. "If I have poise on the field, it's because I know Brown is on the bench," says Cook. "He's my security. If something goes wrong, he grabs you as soon as you come off the field. It's not because he's angry with you but because he wants to know what happened, an analysis of the breakdown. He's a football scientist."
A year ago, Brown stunned everyone by drafting Safety Jess Phillips out of a Michigan prison where he was serving time for passing bad checks. "He made a mistake," says Brown, closing the book on that part of Phillips' life. "I, perhaps better than anyone, should know that a man isn't always what his reputation proclaims him to be," Phillips says. "I played for a few coaches, excellent ones like Duffy Daugherty, but there is a difference between Paul Brown and anyone else. He wants perfection but he has great patience. He has begun to rally this team. Now we are looking to the stars."
Paul Brown isn't quite ready to look that far. "There are some things you can't hurry in life," he says. "Building a football team is one of them. I have mentally prepared myself for whatever anguish I have to go through. I won't like losing but I'll be ready for it. But always, deep inside of me, I feel we'll do better than I care to admit. I have my own little world again. I came back into football because I enjoy the life. I don't want anything or anybody to louse it up."