Who Was the Best Football Coach of All Time?


Ohio’s Paul Brown

The question as to who the best football coach of all time is has probably been asked, and
answered, on numerous occasions. The following is our take on the question when you consider all levels (high school, college and professional) of the sport.

The question as to who the best football coach of all time, to include high school, college and professional, has probably been asked, and answered, on numerous occasions. While there have been many great coaches at all three levels of football, how did Paul Brown’s record compare to these other great football mentors.
Paul Brown coached at the high school level for 11 seasons, two years at Severn Prep (Maryland) and nine years at Massillon Washington.  His overall won-lost record was 96-9-3, .903.  This record includes six state championships and four national titles, all earned while at Massillon.  There are and have been many successful high school football coaches, but which ones do we compare Coach Brown to?  Literally thousands of high school coaches have had good winning percentages.  The number drops to several hundred who have won state championships and a smaller number yet of those who have won multiple state championships.  That number decreases to several dozen who have won national championships, and only 16 who have won multiple national titles.  That is the group to which we must compare Paul Brown’s record.

Below is a listing of some of the better high school coaches who have won multiple national titles:

· Gerry Faust – Moeller – 178-23-2, .886 (19 years) – 5 Ohio Titles, 4 National Championships

· Chuck Kyle – St. Ignatius – 290-67-1, .812 (29 years – still active), 11 Ohio Titles, 3 National Championships

· Bob Ladouceur – De La Salle (Calif.) – 384-25-3, .938 – 16 Calif. titles, 7 National Championships (33 years – still active) – All-time HS winning percentage for coaches with 200+ wins – All-time winning high school coach in Calif.

· George Curry – Berwick HS (39 yrs.), Wyoming West (3 yrs.) – 413-91-5, .819 – 6 Pa. titles, 3 National Championships

· Robert Zuppke – Oak Park (Ill.) – 30-2-0, .937 (3 years) – 3 Illinois Titles, 3 National Championships

· Wright Bazemore – Valdosta (Ga.) – 268-51-8, .832 (28 years) – 14 Georgia Titles, 3 National Championships

As can be seen, Paul Brown compares quite favorably with all of these men. His winning percentage is among the best; his number of state championships is excellent; and his four national titles are tied for second best. Like the legendary Bob Zuppke, whose greatest fame came at the University of Illinois, the “knock” on Paul Brown might be the limited number of years that he was a high school coach when compared to the many decades of these other men.  Our view is quite to the contrary, Coach Brown accomplished in 11 seasons what it took these other great coaches up to four times as many years to accomplish.

Paul Brown’s coaching record at the college level, though short by most standards, is nonetheless outstanding.  He coached in the college ranks for just five seasons, 1941-1945, three at Ohio State and two more at Great Lakes Naval Station.  His overall record was 33-13-3, .846.  His 1942 Ohio State Buckeyes won the national championship, while the Great Lakes team of 1944 was #17 in the AP poll.

However, it is at the professional level where Paul Brown was not only most successful, but best remembered.  His record in 17 seasons as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns (AAFC and NFL) was 158-48-8, .757.  Brown was also head coach of the expansion Cincinnati Bengals for their first eight seasons, winning 55, losing 56 and tying one, a winning percentage of .495.  This gives Brown an overall professional record of 213-104-9, .667, a very good winning percentage for a 25 year career, and one that compares quite favorably with coaches like George Halas (58 seasons), .671, Don Shula (33 seasons), .665, and Vince Lombardi (10 seasons), .728.

But Paul Brown’s years in the professional ranks as measured simply by a won-lost record gives a less than complete look at what he accomplished.  His success, greatness if you will, goes much beyond his wins and losses.

Consider the following:

· With the Browns he took the team to 10 consecutive league championship games, winning seven titles – no other coach, or team, even comes close.

· Even more impressive, those were his first ten seasons as a pro coach!

· His innovations for the game of football included:

1. First extensive use of notebooks and classroom techniques
2. First use of complete game film clips for statistical study
3. First to employ a year-round coaching staff
4. Invented face bars for helmets
5. Developed detailed pass patterns that opened specific defensive areas.
6. First to use messenger guards to send in new plays.

· The Browns were the first professional team in any sport to employ black players

· For those who downplay the All American Football Conference, look at what the Browns did in their first year in the NFL.  They defeated the league champion Philadelphia Eagles in their very first NFL game, 35-10.  When the Eagles coach Greasy Neale complained that the Browns wouldn’t be so good if they could not pass, the Browns came back and defeated them later in the season, and deliberately did not throw a single pass during the entire game.

· As for Browns’ record with the expansion Bengals (1968-1975) , 55-56-1, .495, with two divisional championships and three playoff appearances, compare that to the first eight years of both the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1976-1983) 38-78, .327, two divisional tiles, three playoffs, and the expansion Cleveland Browns (1999-2006) 40-88, .312, no titles, one playoff.

So what does this all mean?  Paul Brown’s coaching career covers three interesting time frames as regards the three levels of football at which he coached.  When he started his coaching career in 1930 the game of football was at its height thanks to the excitement that Knute Rockne and his Notre Dame Ramblers had brought to it.  This in turn added to the appeal of the game at the high school level.  After a mediocre 5-4-1 season in his first year, Brown’s Massillon Tigers were 75-4-1, with state championships in each of his last six seasons, coupled with four national championships.  Brown’s last team at Massillon, the 1940 10-0-0 national champions, is still considered one of the best high school teams ever.

As much as he enjoyed coaching at his alma mater, Brown could not resist the opportunity to take over the Ohio State Buckeyes when the school came calling in 1941.  However, circumstances far removed from the gridiron would work to not only curtail his years at the college level, but also to somewhat lessen his record there.  World War II was in full swing when the Ohio State Buckeyes won the 1942 national championship.  Due to the necessities of the war effort, many college players were getting drafted and then sent off to one of the many colleges that were training officers, primarily for the Navy.  This worked against Brown in 1943, as it did many top college programs, when his national champions finished a lowly 3-6-0.  Brown himself was then drafted and assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, where he would coach the football team for two years.

The end of the war brought many changes, and Paul Brown’s football career was no exception.  While still at Great Lakes he had been signed to coach the still forming professional Cleveland Browns, a team that was not scheduled to play its first game until after the end of the war.

Brown’s years with the Cleveland Browns were again of a unique nature.  Professional football was still for all practical purposes, if not in its infancy, then at least barely into its early teens. Like the founding fathers of the game itself, Brown was able to make changes and innovations to the professional game that few had even considered.  This, and his ability to scout and sign the best college players, gave him a huge advantage over his rivals.  The results as mentioned above speak for themselves.

Paul Brown’s won-lost record at all three levels of football is 343-129-15, .720, for 41 years of coaching, including 12 national championships.  No other coach, at any level or combined levels, has more than seven national titles. Paul Brown and Bob Zuppke are the only coaches to win national championships at both the high school and college level.  Paul Brown is the only coach to win a national championship at both the college and professional level.  And he is the only coach to win a national title at all three levels – high school, college and professional.

To paraphrase sportswriter Doug Huff from the 2002 edition of the Student Sports National High School Football Record Book, if you are looking at best coaches from the high school ranks only, there are the likes of Gerry Faust and Bob Ladouceur.  If you count college only, there are coaches like Knute Rockne and Bear Bryant.  “But if you consider all three levels – prep, college and pro- there’s only one it can be … the man who revolutionized the game. … Ohio’s Paul Brown.” 

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