Perhaps the most influential head coach of all time, Paul Brown is profiled in 10 games from his career in George Cantor’s book.
In his introduction to this book, Bill Walsh, Hall of Fame head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and three-time Super Bowl champion, laments the fact that Paul Brown has become a somewhat forgotten figure in football. Walsh, who died before this book was published, notes that Paul Brown essentially created the modern head coaching role but had not been the subject of a biography until George Cantor’s book.
Coincidentally, a second book was published in the same year: Andrew O’Toole’s Paul Brown: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Football’s Most Innovative Coach. Still, the point stands. Until 2008, the only book about Paul Brown’s life and career was his autobiography, PB, written with Jack Clary and published in 1979.
That’s extraordinary when you consider his impact. As George Cantor’s book explains, Paul Brown developed many modern coaching practices, including using game film to scout opponents, calling plays from the sidelines instead of allowing quarterbacks to call them, and creating a practice squad for fringe players. He played a major role in breaking the NFL’s racist exclusion of black players, introduced tests for players on their playbook knowledge, as well as IQ and personality tests. He was the first coach to have year-round coaching staff, created the draw play and invented an early face mask. And that’s nowhere near the full list.
From his time as head coach of the Massillon High School’s Tigers, to taking Ohio State to its first national championship and later becoming the founding head coach – and namesake – of the Cleveland Browns, Paul Brown’s success was extraordinary. Among other things, it made him a legendary figure in Ohio. In his first 12 seasons in charge of the Browns he took his team to 11 championship games, winning seven.
That streak began in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) but that league collapsed and the Browns joined the NFL. The older league assumed the new team would be exposed as barely above amateur status but Brown took the NFL in stride. His team won the NFL Championship in 1950, its first season in the new league, and played in the next five Championship Games, winning two of them.
Eventually other head coaches caught up with Brown’s methods, while players became less amenable to his dictatorial approach. Meanwhile, Art Modell bought the Browns in 1961 and clashed with his coach regularly enough that he fired him in 1963. In 1967, Paul Brown returned to Ohio football as part owner of the new AFL franchise, the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cantor’s book covers all of these through the lens of 10 games from Brown’s career, beginning with the Massillon Tigers and finishing in 1970, with his Bengals taking on the Cleveland Browns. It’s a slim book, but will give casual fans a good overview of Paul Brown’s career.
George Cantor was a journalist and author who spent most of his career working as a journalist in Detroit. He wrote 30 books, including several on the Detroit Tigers baseball team and the University of Michigan Wolverines. He died in 2010, aged 69.
“George Cantor’s book gives a reasonable summary of Paul Brown’s career, and the framing device of focusing on a single game for each chapter gives it a liveliness than biographies often lack. However, it’s a very superficial portrait of Brown, with little to say on his personality and even less emphasis on his life off the field. His family and friends merit scarcely a mention. For those who want a quick primer in why Paul Brown is an important figure in NFL history, this book will do fine, but its most notable feature is probably the Bill Walsh introduction.”
Shane Richmond, Pigskin Books
“The book is a competent, but not particularly detailed, timeline of Brown’s coaching career. It provides approximately no insight into Brown as a person, his philosophy of coaching, or what spurred him to do what he did. Frankly, the most useful part of the book may be the list at the back of Brown’s records at each stop in his coaching career. Worse, for a nonfiction book, it provides absolutely no sources. Did Cantor make up everything in the book up? I don’t think so, but I really don’t know. I have no idea if Cantor, a veteran sportswriter, wrote this entire book from memory, consulted his personal notebooks, perused newspaper archives, interviewed a lot of people, read other books, or what. I don’t know if he read Brown’s autobiography, even. Paul Brown isn’t particularly bad, but it’s, well, bad in a dull way-not particularly interesting to read, nor insightful, nor informative.”
Tom Gower, Reading and Thinking Football
“This approach risked getting bogged down in the stats of each contest, but Cantor’s obvious intimate knowledge of Brown’s career and the themes of the book work like one of the coach’s famous draw plays. The author’s detailed reporting and fluid style keep this biography compelling from start to finish.”
Michael Heaton, Cleveland Plain Dealer
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Photo: Erik Drost