Leonard: How Paul Brown Did It

In the wake of recent comments from both Eric Mangini and Jamal Lewis, how did the legendary Paul Brown run practice? And his team? Mark Leonard has been checking out the history books, and offers some choice insights...

It may seem to some odd that one would write about occurrences from a half-century ago, but this morning Browns' RB Jamal Lewis expressed a perspective on Head Coach Eric Mangini's practice habits. Earlier this week, Mangini indicated former Browns' head coach Paul Brown, the Hall of Famer who was the club's original coach, was an inspiration to him in many ways.

Therefore, it does not seem inappropriate to share the insights attributed to some of PB's all-time great players,  such as Hall of Fame ORT Mike McCormack, who later went on to coach both the Eagles and the Colts before serving as president under Bill Polian when the expansion Carolina Panthers were reaching the NFC Title Game in only their second season of existence.

Jack Clary interviewed McCormack for his 1973 publication of Great Teams' Great Years, the Cleveland Browns. On page 119, McCormack is asked to comment upon how he found the coach, particularly since he'd played against Brown's teams and since was coached by him (McCormack arrived as the key piece in a 1954 15-player trade with Baltimore that sent to the Colts, among others, former John Carroll teammates Don Shula and Carl Taseff.)

"I had no idea about Paul Brown until I started playing. We had always heard about the Browns---that they were well-schooled, that they were not a physical team.

" I went with some misgivings because I didn't know what to expect. I heard that he was a real taskmaster and when I got there, the things that impressed me was how basic he was. The admiration grew each year. His thoroughness. The practices were not as grueling as I had expected, yet in looking back, they were very thorough. We covered everything, step by step. We didn't have the physical practice, but I think we accomplished as much.

"He supervised everything. He knew what was going on. He saw it. He relied a great deal on his assistants to get the job done. I have been told that he schooled them very well.

"I have found that once you get the championship, you know what it takes to win, it's in you, and no one can take that away from you. This is what the Browns' teams of that time had."

Subsequently, Clary paraphrased Jim Houston, who cited "tremendous confidence" as a reason for the Browns' perennial successes. "Very true," said McCormack. "There is a pride in yourself and each other---pride in the team---which again I think  goes back to Paul Brown and the organization and what he instilled in everybody."

Responding to what Brown was like when finally he encountered adversity, McCormack said: "I understand it's (1956) the only losing season he has ever had until he went with Cincinnati. Of course he was down, but he had such great belief in what he was trying to do and his method of doing it. That's something that has impressed me in the three great coaches I've met---Brown, Vince Lombardi and George Allen. If you believe you're right, you stick to it and don't let anybody try to sway you or change your mind."

In his summation statement about PB, McCormack said: "Everybody respected him. As a person, Paul was aloof, so no one really knew him. Everyone respected him. I understand that he changed in Cincinnati. He got closer to the ballclub, and they love him. Since I retired, I've gotten closer to him and he's a heck of a warm man, something I didn't realize when I played for him."

Incidentally, McCormack was one of four former Browns to be coaching in the NFL at the time of the writing. Abe Gibron was in Chicago. Lou Saban in Buffalo. Shula in Miami and Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh, the latter two building dynasties from losing organizations using Brown's methods. Following Blanton Collier's succession to Brown's throne, resulting in the last championship the city has enjoyed, the Browns under Art Modell went quickly and forever away from the Paul Brown approach.

HOF QB Otto Graham had some thoughts on his former coach, as well. "I didn't fully realize, until I got into coaching, that when you set up rules and regulations you don't set them up for the top people on your team, you set them up for the guys low in morals and character. If he treated players like kids at times, it's because some individuals simply made it impossible not to treat them that way. So I consider myself very fortunate to have played for Paul Brown because I personally think he is probably the finest football coach that ever coached the game. I am very happy that I played for Paul Brown and I admire him very much, both as a coach and as a person."

When asked about prima donnas on the Browns, Graham said: "There were none, I assure you. If anyone showed any such inclinations, he got rid of them. I can't think of one that you could call a prima donna. You had better doggone well play for the betterment of the team and not for yourself. I agree with him 100 percent. That's why we were good, quite frankly."

Said Lou Groza, "I think one of the big factors in Paul Brown's success through all his coaching career was his ability as an organizer and his delegation of responsibility. These people, in their own particular category, were so trained that they wanted to do well, not only for themselves but because they were a part of a successful organization. "

Said Houston, a longtime OLB from Ohio State and Massillon High, where Brown both coached and attended: "Paul was a master of everything with regard to football. He was exceptionally sharp in all facets of this organization. You know you're with a real class organization. We were always in it. We've always been in it."

As to why the club was so consistently excellent, Houston remarked: "It goes back to the beginning. It's just simply the organization, the history, the attitude of those particular players, the winning. It's kind of like Massillon High School. Massillon has always been a high school power, 95 per cent of the time they are always at the top and it's because of the organization and tradition. That is an important part.  It's up to us old guys to let them (younger teammates) know that we are the Browns and we have that winning idea and attitude. "

Readers can identify for themselves which areas are also characteristic of Mangini's philosophies and approaches, as well as in which areas the young coach might improve. Meanwhile, it seems both timely and relevant to share what has been said of one of his expressed inspirations.

Remember it was Mangini who said to his mother, at the time he accepted the low-paying, low-esteemed ballboy position in Cleveland at a rather advanced age: "But, Mom. It's the Cleveland Browns!"


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