NFL Coaching Tree, Old Growth Division


February 7, 2011 by David Gillaspie

From The Roots

Did Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry invent the modern NFL?

If you count the number of Super Bowls both coaches won, the answer could be yes.

Lombardi:  2 wins.

Landry:  2 wins.

Chuck Noll counts 4 Super Bowl wins on his watch, yet isn’t considered an NFL game changer?  Like Phil Jackson with the Bulls and Lakers, Noll gets short shrift because of the great players he coached.

He had plenty of them. 

Great players on great teams need great coaching.  If that wasn’t true, the U.S. Olympic basketball teams would be solid gold.  But they’re not.

That Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi are passwords for NFL excellence neglects a few other coaches, but one in particular.


If you climb around in ‘coaching trees’ then Paul Brown’s has the deepest tap root and the tallest leader branch.

What did he do that makes him so special?

Name recognition is a key to greatness.  A single tissue paper is a kleenex; a photo copy of a document is a xerox.  Have you heard of the Green Bay Lombardis?  The Dallas Landrys? 

Of course not, but you have heard of the Cleveland Browns.

That’s Paul Brown.

He was Jimmy Johnson before Jimmy by coaching The Ohio State to a national championship before taking his Cleveland Browns to the top, going back-to-back in ’54 and ’55.

He broke the unspoken rule in pro football against black players by recruiting Marion Motley in 1946.  In comparison, Jackie Robinson started with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Paul Brown didn’t have computers to crunch data on players, instead he had an eye for talent.  How sharp?  It was sharp enough to field teams that went to championship games ten years straight, combining the original All-America Football Conference and the NFL.

Was it luck, or just a guy smarter than everyone else in the room?  He earned a Master’s degree and qualified for a Rhodes Scholarship.  No one called him ‘The Genius.’  He didn’t need the pump.

When the Green Bay Packers needed a head coach in 1958, they asked Paul Brown’s opinion.  He said Vince Lombardi or Blanton Collier.  We know about Lombardi.  Blanton Collier eventually took over the Browns and led them to an NFL title in 1964. 

When the Baltimore Colts needed a new coach, they asked Paul Brown.  He suggested Weeb Ewband and they won back to back titles in ’58 and ’59.  Do you sense a trend?

Collier was the first branch on the Paul Brown coaching tree that still sprouts today.

If you doubt it, consider the current Super Bowl teams.  The Packers and Steelers each have head coaches that wind back to Brown.

First Mike McCarthy: he goes through Paul Hackett to Bill Walsh to Paul Brown.

Mike Tomlin goes through Tony Dungy to Dennis Green to Bill Walsh to Paul Brown.

Sid Gillman traveled many of the same roads as Paul Brown, but a few years apart.  They both have The Ohio State and Miami University on their records.  Did Gillman use Paul Brown ideas for his teams?  He had to know them; he’s a branch of the Brown tree.

The main branches off the Paul Brown trunk include Collier, Weeb ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’ Ewbank, Sid ‘Go Long’ Gillman, Chuck ‘4 Rings In Four Tries’ Noll, Don ‘Perfect Season’ Shula, Bill ‘Do You Know Who I Am’ Walsh, and other notables from each of them.

Coach Walsh once asked a gambler at a table he crowded up to, “Do you know who I am” just before getting punched out.  It doesn’t take a genius to read that play.

Spread the field, Coach.  Make some room.  That’s what Sid Gillman would have done, because that’s what he learned from Paul Brown.

If Paul Brown doesn’t deserve more credit than anyone in the NFL, who does?  It’s not The Genius, or Tom Landry, or Vince Lombardi.

They all tip their hat to Mr. Brown.  Now you can, too.


One thought on “NFL Coaching Tree, Old Growth Division

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by J Jackson, David Gillaspie. David Gillaspie said: Newest Post: both NFL coaches from yesterday come from the same coaching tree. So do most other good coaches. Who? […]

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