For decades, coach Paul Brown occupied a revered place on the national sports stage. But despite his fame and success, he allowed few people to see beneath his intense, inscrutable gaze. Yet from his beginnings at Massillon High School and Miami University all the way to Ohio State, the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals, Brown proved to be an iconic figure who epitomized an era in American life — and taught all of us how you can redefine your life at any age — the ultimate “second act.”
The Paul Brown File

Sept. 7, 1908, in Norwalk.

Miami University in 1925 with a bachelor’s degree in education; Ohio State University in 1930 with a master’s degree in education.
Coaching Career: Head coach, Ohio State University, 1941 to 1945; head coach, Cleveland Browns, 1945 to 1962; owner and coach, Cincinnati Bengals, 1968 to 1991.
Famous Players and Staff : Anthony Munoz, Boomer Esiason, Ken Anderson, Tim Krumrie, Bruce Coslet, Forrest Gregg, Ickey Woods, Sam Wyche.
Famous Firsts: Brown was the first to use intelligence tests as a hint to a player’s learning potential, first to use notebooks and classroom techniques extensively, first to set up complete film clip statistical studies and to grade his own players based on film study, first to install face masks that attached to player helmets, and first to use a radio transmitter to communicate with players on the field. Brown was also the first coach to keep his players together at a hotel the night before a home game as well as a road game.
Notable Stats: Built great Cleveland dynasty with 167-53-8 record, four AAFC titles, three NFL crowns, only one losing season in 17 years. The Bengals record in the 1970s was 74-70-0; in the ‘80s, it was 81-71-0.
Famous Quote: “Son, act like you’ve been there before,” a remark made to a Bengals player who was grandstanding after a touchdown.
Excerpt permitted with permission of the publisher, Clerisy Press of O’Byronville. © 2008. All rights reserved. Paul Brown is available at local and online booksellers and at
Biographer Andrew O’Toole has wonderfully chronicled Paul Brown’s encore in life in the recently published biography, Paul Brown: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again. He writes:
“Paul Brown stood on the dais overlooking a packed ballroom in Cincinnati’s Sheraton Gibson Hotel. The date was September 26, 1967. Following a four-anda- half year forced exile from his chosen profession, Brown was bringing pro football to the Queen City. Football’s greatest innovator had returned to the game, and the state, that had brought him glory. Looking out over the room, Paul was awash with emotion.
“This is like coming home,” Brown told the gathering of Cincinnati business leaders.
Nearly two years of fervent politicking culminated with Paul’s declaration from the podium that early-fall afternoon. With the endorsement of Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the National Football League, Brown and his financial backers had been awarded the American Football League’s tenth franchise. Though others had invested, and invested heavily, in the endeavor, Brown wanted to set the record straight. “I appoint the board of directors,” he told reporters following the announcement. “I wouldn’t have come back unless I was in complete charge. The players know they cannot bypass me or go to the general manager or the owners. It gives me great advantage over other coaches.”
“This is the way it must be,” Paul continued. “Any other way and in time you’ll see the whole structure begin to crumble, and all at once a good team will begin to slide. It’s inevitable. Look at the history of great football teams, and you’ll see all the authority concentrated in the coach.”
Brown’s words were born of experience. He had, at one time, autonomy in Cleveland. And then, practically overnight, a fresh-talking, fast-living salesman ingratiated himself with Brown’s players and usurped his powers.
Art Modell bought the Cleveland Browns fair and square. Hell, Brown even signed off on the deal and made himself more than a few bucks in the process. But what came along with this Modell blindsided Brown.
The discord between the two men went deeper than a simple clash of personalities. In addition to distinct philosophies and styles, two impressive egos had collided. Each man was a success in his chosen field, but Modell and Brown reached the summit from different points on the map.
“One was from knowledge and experience,” Paul would later say. “The other from a complete lack of either.”
The lessons learned in those last, bitter days in Cleveland had left an enduring mark on Brown. At endgame, of course, that carpetbagger was still there in Cleveland running the team named for Paul Brown, while he was left here, standing in a hotel ballroom, ready to start anew. History, Paul vowed, would not be repeated. This new beginning, this second chance was all he’d ever hoped for. A rebirth—it was all anyone could ever wish for.
Indeed, “This is like coming home,” Brown told those gathered in the ballroom. “I’m living again.”
Felix Winternitz is the editor of My Turn. You can reach him at fwinternitz@