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On This Date in January 9, 1963: Brown Out

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

In a move that stuns the world of professional football, Paul Brown is fired by the Cleveland Browns. Brown had been the coach of the Browns since their founding as a team in the All-American Football Conference in 1946. The team name was chosen to honor Paul Brown, who won four AAFC Championships and three NFL Championships in Cleveland. However, a falling out with owner Art Modell over the trade that sent Bobby Mitchell to Washington led to the split that ends with Paul Brown’s ouster. 

Paul Brown was the king of football in the state of Ohio. He was born on September 7, 1908, in Norwalk, Ohio. Born and raised in Ohio, Brown became a coach in local high schools after graduating from Miami of Ohio. Paul Brown was a highly respected coach at Massillon Washington High School. He showed his innovative side, creating the playbook and formations that would revolutionize football on every level. After five state championships, Paul Brown got his dream job when he was named coach at Ohio State in 1941. Brown spent three seasons leading the Buckeyes before being drafted into the Navy. 

While in the Navy, Paul Brown served as the coach at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. When the war was over, Paul Brown did not return to Ohio State. He was offered a record $17,500 more than any coach had ever made at that point to become the coach for a new professional team in Cleveland, in the upstart All-American Football Conference. The team would be named Browns in his honor. The Browns dominated the AAFC, winning the league championship four consecutive seasons. 

The Browns' domination led to the demise of the AAFC, but the Cleveland Browns moved on to the NFL in 1950 and showed their championships were legitimate by winning the NFL Championship. The Browns added two more titles in 1954 and 1955 and played in the NFL Championship in their first six seasons. Along the way, Paul Brown reinvented the sport of football. He embraced the integration of football and mentored many future coaches who would shape the NFL for the next 50 years. 

Between 1946-1957, the Cleveland Browns won seven AAFC and NFL Championships and played in the championship game 11 of 12 seasons. After the 1957 season, the Browns had their struggles as Otto Graham retired and was replaced by Milt Plum at quarterback. While Jim Brown carried the load, the Browns could not win the Eastern Conference. 

In 1961, Art Modell and an advertising executive from New York purchased the Browns for $4.1 million. He also brought out Paul Brown’s shares for $500,000. Brown remained the coach, signing an eight-year contract. Brown and Modell had an uneasy partnership as the owner often second-guessed the coach. In 1962, Art Modell traded Bobby Mitchell to the Washington Redskins for Ernie Davis, the first overall draft pick from Syracuse. Brown was unhappy; he was not consulted about the trade. Things only got worse when Davis was diagnosed with leukemia. Art Modell wanted Paul Brown to let Ernie Davis play in a game, and when the coach refused, the relationship was permanently fractured. 

After the Browns posted a 10-4 record, finishing in second place in 1963, Art Modell decided to pull the plug and fired Paul Brown. Blanton Collier, a longtime assistant, was named Browns’ replacement. The Browns won an NFL Championship in 1964 and played in the NFL Championship Game in 1965. Paul Brown would reemerge in 1968 with his own team, the Cincinnati Bengals, who began as an AFL expansion team.