Browns Who Turned Up Golden
By Steven King
The best coaching hires in Cleveland Browns history?
It’s a relatively long list but not one that’s hard to put together. Let’s take a look at these men, listed in the order in which they coached:
Paul Brown – The man for whom the club is named, Brown was the team’s head coach and general manager through its first 17 seasons (1946-62). He is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after guiding the Browns to 10 straight league championship games – with seven titles – in their first 10 years of existence - an unprecedented stretch in pro football history. Brown is also known as “The Father of Modern Football” for all the innovations he brought to the game. So much of today’s NFL – the spread offense, the emphasis on speed, the importance of special teams, the radio transmitter in the quarterback’s helmet and full-time, year-round head coaches, just to name a few – can be traced directly to him. He is as important of a figure as there is in pro football history.
Blanton Collier – Following Brown and coaching from 1963-70, he immediately got the Browns back on track after a 7-6-1 finish in 1962. In his second year, he guided them to their first NFL title in nine seasons with a 27-0 rout of the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts. It is considered the greatest overall team victory in franchise history. In all, the Browns made the playoffs in five of Collier’s eight seasons and advanced to NFL Championship four times. His bust might also be in Canton along with Brown’s were it not for a hearing problem that ended his career prematurely.
Sam Rutigliano – When he began his 6½-year head coaching career in 1978, he completely changed the team and its culture, putting together the most exciting season in team history in 1980 with the “Kardiac Kids”. He immediately put his unwavering faith in an up-and-down quarterback named Brian Sipe and began to lay the groundwork for him becoming the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1980. In the 1978 NFL Draft, Rutigliano drafted a wide receiver from Alabama named Ozzie Newsome and showed incredible foresight by switching him to tight end while shifting Dave Logan – a 6-4, 219-pound tight end – to wide receiver. The moves couldn’t have worked out better.
Jim Shofner – He was the Browns’ first-round draft pick in 1958, served as the starting right cornerback for the last five of his six seasons with the team and was an assistant coach with the club on two different occasions, but it is in that first coaching stint that he made his biggest impact. Serving as Rutigliano’s quarterbacks coach from 1978-80, he was the man most responsible for nurturing Sipe into an MVP. It is not a coincidence that Sipe’s production dipped meteorically in 1981, the year after Shofner departed for a job with the Houston Oilers.
Marty Schottenheimer – Although stubbornness sometimes got in the way in his 4½ seasons (1984-88) as head coach, he guided the Browns to four straight playoff appearances, three AFC Central Division titles and their first two trips to the AFC Championship Game.
Lindy Infante – Despite the fact he was with the Browns for only two seasons, he is the greatest offensive coordinator in team history. From 1986-87, he turned the Browns from a run-first team that couldn’t throw the ball effectively into one that had one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. He also developed Bernie Kosar into a Pro Bowl quarterback who led Cleveland to back-to-back AFC title game appearances.
Nick Saban – The best defensive coordinator the Browns have ever had coached for four years and, in his final season of 1994, his unit set a team record for the fewest points allowed in a 16-game schedule. From that, it was easy to see he was headed for stardom in his career.