NFL coaching study ranks Brown greatest ever
For once, the numbers matched the heart and even went beyond.
Pro football historian John Maxymuk grew up loving Vince Lombardi's Packers in New Jersey. But he was taught the game by his father, a native of Paul Brown's Cleveland who became a fan of Brown's new team in Cincinnati.
So Maxymuk is delighted with the research for his most recent article in "The Coffin Corner," magazine that ranks all NFL head coaches. It spits out time and time again in every chart imaginable that Brown and Lombardi are the two top coaches of all-time.
He had no idea what the numbers would yield and prepared to crown George Halas or Don Shula if the calculator promulgated it. But in his conclusion, Maxymuk even had to tip a fedora to his father and Brown.
"It is also clear," Maxymuk writes, "that the accomplishments of Paul Brown consistently outshine those of Vince Lombardi in almost any light, making it easy to declare Brown the greatest coach of all."
In Maxymuk's four tables in which the coaches' standings flutter with the circumstance (for instance, Chuck Noll is 12th overall, but third on one chart and seventh on another), Brown and Lombardi are an unshakeable 1-2.
"In some ways they were very different. Lombardi was volatile and Brown was much more cool," Maxymuk reflected this week, the author of 10 football books putting it into the context of the Rutgers University reference librarian.
"But they had similarities. They both emphasized precision execution and basic plays rather than flashy things. They stressed blocking and tackling. They always had solid defenses even though they were both offensive coaches. They both ran the ball more than the league average. They liked each other. They made deals. They were the only coaches in the 1960s, certainly in the late '60s, that were also the general manager."
BELICHICK BRANCH OF THE TREE
It turns out that the NFL's most successful head coach of the 21st century, Bill Belichick, is not only a part of Brown's sprawling Ohio coaching tree, he's also related to Brown by a decimal point in Maxymuk's algorithm. Belichick is seventh on the list, behind all Hall of Famers: Brown, Lombardi, George Halas, Curly Lambeau, Don Shula and John Madden.
"Of the top 15, four either played or coached for Brown," Maxymuk said earlier this week, referring to Shula (5), Bill Walsh (10), Noll (12) and Blanton Collier (14).
"And Belichick's connection is that his godfather (Bill Edwards) played and coached under Brown before going off and coaching on his own," Maxymuk said.
Edwards, a high school teammate of Brown's in Massillon, Ohio, later coached with him in Cleveland for two years. While with Western Reserve and the Lions, Edwards coached Belichick's father, Steve, and Steve coached under Edwards at Vanderbilt.
It's a pretty sturdy tree, according to Maxymuk, author of NFL Head Coaches: A Biographical Dictionary, 1920-2011.
His study goes back to 1933, about the time football and head coaching took on a more modern form and it includes anyone who coached at least 55 games. He multiplies each coach's regular-season winning percentage by 100, multiples the percentage of seasons his teams made the postseason by 10, multiples Super Bowl or championship game appearances by 1, and multiples championships by 4. He then adds the four numbers to get an overall total and Brown's 111.72 during 25 years has the edge on Lombardi's 104.79 in his 10.
"Lombardi had been so great in such a such a brief time, you wonder what would happened with the Redskins if he hadn't died at such a young age," Maxymuk said of Lombardi's death of cancer at age 57 in 1970.
So Maxymuk took the best contiguous 10-year record of each coach and still came out with Brown and Lombardi 1-2. By doing that, Walsh dropped to 18th and Madden to 11th while only Bud Grant got into the top 15 when he came up from 30 to 13.
NO MATTER HOW YOU SLICE IT
The 10-year study took two periods of Brown's career. In the only chart Brown finishes behind Lombardi, Maxymuk doesn't include Brown's four seasons in the All-American Football Conference that got absorbed by the NFL in 1950. When he does count those seasons, Brown betters his lead and that's what Maxymuk goes by.
"A lot of great players came out of that league and they say the main reason it folded is because of the dominance of Cleveland," Maxymuk says. "It's not fair not to count it."
It doesn't matter when he moves to the top six contiguous years for each coach. Brown wins with his score of 125.1 in the AAFC and NFL and 109.25 in just the NFL. Lombardi stays No. 2 while Noll goes to No. 3, George Seifert from No. 13 to No. 6, Tony Dungy from 15 to 9, Tom Flores from 38-8, and Steve Owen from 16-7.
Speaking of Seifert, the man that inherited Walsh's three-time Super Bowl champions in San Francisco, Maxymuk tried to account for the talent levels that each coach received. Except for new coaches that formed their team "without any serious restrictions."
Brown's expansion '46 Browns fall into that category, but not his '68 Bengals.
"By that time an expansion team had to deal with a rigid structure, coming into a league that had a college draft and an expansion draft," Maxymuk said.
So, for instance, in the chart that Maxymuk calls "Transition Years," Tom Coughlin's '95 expansion Jaguars and '04 Giants are dropped from the records, as well as Brown's '68 expansion Bengals, because it's the coach's first year with a new team. Brown—at 114.0—and Lombardi—at 109.86 (without the '59 Packers and '69 Redskins)—still go 1-2 for coaches with at least 80 games.
As Maxymuk expected, Seifert dropped 10 spots to 23 while Jimmy Johnson moved from 27 to 14. Coughlin, rated 28th overall, moved up to 24th.
And yet Brown and Lombardi don't move. Even though Brown spent his last eight seasons, from the ages of 60 to 67 with an expansion team. What's more of a testimony? That three-playoff run in Cincinnati? Or the innovations in Cleveland?
"He was older at that point and the other coaches had caught up with what he had done in the past. He was a solid coach. He was still looking to the future," Maxymuk said. "Other coaches looked at film before him, but he perfected it. He made it a science … the innovations organizationally were (at the top)."
It all makes you wonder why the Vince Lombardi Trophy isn't named the Paul Brown Trophy. Probably for the reason Maxymuk is a Packers fan today and not a Giants or Jets fan.
"The NFL divides things by Super Bowls and Brown's best years were before the Super Bowl; he never made one," he said. "Football was just starting to take hold in the '60s, and the Packers were celebrated in the media. A number of them wrote books and were celebrated on TV."
But Maxymuk's father continued to believe in Brown. He detested the man that fired Brown, Browns owner Art Modell, delighted in Brown's comeback, got depressed when Rookie of the Year quarterback Greg Cook hurt his arm, and followed the career of the club's all-time passing leader Ken Anderson.
When his son grew up to write the book Quarterback Abstract, John would put Anderson No. 1 on his list of all-time underrated quarterbacks and call him a Hall of Famer.