Review: The Man Who Invented Pro Football by George Cantor

Paul Brown’s legacy casts a long shadow into the modern version of professional football. In Paul Brown: The Man Who Invented Pro Football, George Cantor touches on some of Brown’s modern innovations and chronicles his journey through Ohio football from high school to the professional ranks.

Brown began his career at Massillon Washington High School and quickly compiled an impressive 80-8-2 record. When the Ohio State job opened in 1941, Brown quickly moved to fill the role due to his popularity as a successful high school coach. Eventually, when Cleveland’s entry into the AAFC needed a coach, Brown took the job. Cantor discusses how the war impacted the college game and eventually left Brown with little choice but to move on the blossoming professional game where he eventually built a dynasty.

Brown introduced many practices in place today – position coaches, sending plays in from the sidelines, and an offensive scheme predicated on short passes and a complementary run game typically referred to as the West Coast offense. The book spends some time discussing these innovations, but in the end the book reads more like a timeline of Brown’s coaching exploits, tracing his steps from boyhood through retirement. The story never digs too deeply into any one specific area, but the cadence of the biography moves the reader through Brown’s career in a way that nicely mimics Brown’s coaching journey.

In the end, many of the characteristics that lead to Brown’s success also contributed to many of his problems. Brown mandated discipline from his players and his uncompromising approach alienated many of his players later on in their careers despite the continue championships. Resentment mounted. Ironically, though, Brown did not apply that same approach to the game. His stubbornness with people contradicted the innovation he brought to coaching. Recognizing the game as always changing and looking for an edge, Brown was willing to explore new ways to play the game provided his players remained consistent and disciplined.

Cantor spends a good amount of time discussing Brown’s falling out in Cleveland and his resentment toward Art Modell and his relationships with the players. For Brown, he took it personally and spent the better part of his final days trying to make peace with how he felt he was wronged by the team he built. For readers interested in how Paul Brown built the Cleveland Browns into the first modern NFL dynasty, Cantor’s biography delivers.