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The Suburbanite
  • The Monday After: Art Modell parted ways with Paul Brown 50 years ago

  • “This is not a firing,” said owner Art Modell in January 1963, after dismissing the only coach and general manager that The Cleveland Browns had known — the legend, Paul Brown.

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  • “This is not a firing,” said owner Art Modell in January 1963, after dismissing the only coach and general manager that The Cleveland Browns had known — the legend, Paul Brown.
    “This is a reorganization. Paul will continue as a vice president,” said Modell, trying to “smooth over” what was an “open war” between Brown and the club owner, according to Repository sports writer Chuck Such.
    The journalist said the move made 50 years ago this month by Modell was more sudden than surprising.
    “Although rumors of a possible split between Browns’ owner Arthur B. Modell, a youthful New York advertising executive, and one-time Massillon and Ohio State University football genius Brown were making the rounds,” the sportswriter wrote in his initial story about Brown’s removal, “the actual dismissal jolted fans and players alike.”
    IMMEDIATE REACTION
    Football fans from Massillon, where Brown had coached Washington High School from 1932 to 1940, were perhaps most vocal. Their assessment of the situation varied, however, from “he’ll be missed” and “I think Cleveland will go downhill,” to “he got stale just like everybody else” and “I’m glad to see this guy go.”
    Players on the Browns were more cautious in remarks made about their coach as he was heading out the door,
    Dick Schafrath from Wooster said “I really respected Paul Brown,” while Lou Groza, the last remaining charter member of the Browns, noted that he had played for Brown since he left high school.
    “I developed a great admiration for him,” said Groza. “He has been a great coach. A lot of innovations from his techniques have been adopted in pro football.”
    Indeed, Brown “has been a great coach,” said Browns defensive back Bernie Parrish, a view that was shared by former teammate Lin Houston, who had played for Brown since his high school days at Massillon.
    “In the last 20 years,” Houston said in 1963, “Paul Brown has done more for pro football than anyone.”
    Still, added Parrish, “I think it’s time for a change.” Within days stories by sports reporters — many published outside Cleveland because of the city’s newspaper strike — would reveal that several Browns players had lost faith in their coach.
    “A taskmaster, Brown never believed in a buddy-buddy relationship with his players,” explained Such in The Repository. “Consequently, seldom did he earn their lavish praise. Brown demanded perfection, class, performance and behavior.
    “He selected highly intelligent men. Questionable characters were sent on their way as quickly as possible. He often pointed out that some players were cut from the squad because of bad table manners.”
    So, the deed was done by Modell, a man who came in wanting to be a “player-owner” — someone who had input in the day-to-day decisions about the club. All that was left, said Browns linebacker Vince Costello, who was born in Dellroy and graduated from Magnolia High School, was to watch the aftermath of the move.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It will be very interesting to see what happens now — who the new coach will be,” he said, “and what the Browns will do without Brown.”  
    CANDIDATES CONSIDERED
    Most curious about the new coach were the Browns assistant coaches, many of whom hailed from Stark County. Personnel director Paul Bixler was a native of Louisville. Fritz Heisler, coach of the guards and centers, was of Massillon, as was defensive coach Howard Brinker.
    Another of Brown’s assistants, Blanton Collier, was one of four men Modell said he was considering to be the team’s new head coach. To the relief of the players who were familiar with him and the staff of coaches who would keep their jobs, Collier quickly was chosen.
    “I am accepting this job as head coach of the Cleveland Browns with emotions so conflicting that I find them most difficult to explain,” Collier said at a news conference Modell held to announce the appointment late in January 1963. “I am honored, flattered, and, I think, justifiably proud to have been offered what is generally considered one of the top positions in football — the ultimate in the coaching profession.
    “At the same time, I accept this job with all the humbleness and humility that results from replacing not only one of the greatest football coaches of all time, but also the man who gave me my start in professional football.”
    The choice of Collier was praised by players. “I like Blanton a lot,” said fullback Jim Brown. “I think Blanton will make an excellent head coach,” said Schafrath. “I’m looking forward to next season, said Costello.
    Meanwhile, the old coach, the man for whom the Browns were named, was left to look on. Brown still had a six-year contract with the Browns. And, he had a title.
    “If he wishes, Paul can continue as a vice president for the next six years at the same financial agreement (more than $80,000 a year),” promised Modell, “and also as a stockholder.”
    Immediately after he was relieved as coach, Brown — who would go on to found the Cincinnati Bengals in the American Football League — sounded less than enthused about Modell’s offer, which was “in the hands of legal people,” he said.
    “I’m on the shelf now,” the 54-year-old former coach told sports reporters, “a vice president in charge of I-don’t-know-what.”