How a Legendary Coach and World War II Sailor Made the NFL What It Is Today

Famous resident Paul Brown, a former football player, coach and founder/owner with the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, is immortalized with a statue in front of Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon, Ohio. (Sean P. Bender)

Today, most NFL fans who know the name Paul Brown will likely be from the great state of Ohio. One of the state's football teams, the Cleveland Browns, is named for him, and the other, the Cincinnati Bengals, play in a stadium that bears his name.

Older fans and sports history buffs will know Brown as a seven-time national championship-winning coach who founded the Browns and the Bengals and laid the groundwork for how many NFL teams are run to this day.

Brown grew up in Massillon, Ohio, and worked his way up from coaching the local high school to coaching the Ohio State Buckeyes. His first year at Ohio State was 1941 and saw the Buckeyes finish the season 6-1-1.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, local military posts began forming football teams, and the 33-year-old Brown started allowing teams such as Fort Knox to play against the Buckeyes, and 1942 was another good year for Brown and the team. As World War II dragged on, good players were sent to fight, which was a boon to the Army but a disaster for college sports.

In 1944, the Buckeyes finally lost Brown to the draft as well, and he was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago, where the brass believed in the morale-boosting power of team sports. Since the war was winding down, Brown was named the coach of the Great Lakes Navy Bluejackets football team and took it to a 9-2-1 record.

Cleveland Browns linebacker Lou Saban is shown with coach Paul Brown. (Massillon Museum)

Their only losses were to Notre Dame and Ohio State, but the Bluejackets still cracked the AP Top 20 poll that year. Most importantly, his performance against ranked teams sparked interest in forming a new league to compete with the NFL in 1945. A wealthy taxi magnate in Cleveland bought the Cleveland franchise for the new All-America Football Conference and asked Brown to coach after the war. Brown accepted.

In 1946, Brown arrived in Cleveland to start coaching the new team. It consisted of players, coaches and staff that had worked for or played for Brown in the past. They wanted Brown to name the team after himself, but Brown rejected the idea of naming it the Browns. Instead, he called for a naming contest.

The winning name was the Panthers, but fate stepped in and rejected it outright. The owner of the team, ​​ , named the team the Browns despite Paul Brown's objection.

Brown went on to contribute a number of critical practices to coaching a professional football team, many of which are still used today. He used intelligence tests on his players and routinely quizzed them on their knowledge of the playbook. His practices were strict, organized and purposeful, and he analyzed previous game films so he could better target and defeat opponents.

When it came to scouting for new players, he created a new, detailed system for scouts to follow when looking at college-level players. His system forced coaches from other teams to follow his lead; seven championships is a difficult record of success with which to argue.

Brown coached the Browns through the 1962 season, then took a five-year hiatus. In 1968, the American Football League, also an NFL competitor, opened a new franchise in Cincinnati. Brown became the third-largest investor, naming the team the Bengals.

In 1970, the AFL and NFL merged, forming the NFL as we know it today. Brown coached in Cincinnati until 1975, when he retired after coaching for 45 years. His influence extends down to some of the greatest coaches in NFL history, many of whom are still at work today, including Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin and Andy Reid.

Paul Brown's legacy lives on in The Dawg Pound. (Erik Drost)

Brown died of pneumonia in 1991 at age 82.

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