There was no doubt that Paul Brown would on this list, it was just a matter of how high he would be. Brown created two NFL teams, the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. He was also very innovative and is one of the most respected coaches until this very day.
The original Browns roster was a cornucopia of Browns’ greats. Quarterback Otto Graham, tackle/kicker Lou Groza and receiver Dante Lavelli were amongst the first players the Browns signed. They also signed African American standouts, defensive lineman Bill Willis and running back Marion Motley, which in 1946 was not a common practice. Brown was the head coach for the Browns from 1946 – 1962. In that time he won four AAFC championships and three NFL championships. After the 1962 season, Brown was fired from the organization he created by owner Art Modell.
In 1968, after a short hiatus out of football, Brown created a new franchise in Cincinnati. He used similar colors to those used by the Browns and when Modell complained that the Bengals were stealing their stuff, Brown replied, “Who is stealing from whom?” Brown would go on to coach the Bengals from 1968 – 1975. After leaving coaching he remained as the team’s owner and president until his death in 1991.
Brown had numerous former players and coaches become NFL head coaches. His 1946 original team included Lou Saban, who would go on to have a long and illustrious coaching career as well as assistant coach Blanton Collier who would be Brown’s successor in 1963. Other players and coaches who worked under Brown who would go on to become head coaches include, but are not limited to, Don Shula, Weeb Ewbank, Chuck Noll, Ara Parseghian, Sam Wyche, Bruce Coslet and Bill Walsh.
There are many things that are part of the fabric of football today that Brown had a hand in creating. The playbook being written down was a Brown invention as he wanted to make sure players were studying all the plays. He was the first coach to use film to study opponents, used a play-calling shuttle system where offensive linemen were shuttling in and out with the next play and timing the 40-yard dash.
Paul Brown’s legacy continues through the two franchises he started, the many coaches that can trace their lineage up to Brown and the many innovations he brought to the NFL that are common-place today. What might be most notable is Brown and Otto Graham are the only coach – quarterback duo with as illustrious a resume as New England Patriots Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. In many ways, Belichick and Brady are the modern era version of Brown and Graham. What an amazing legacy!