Sunday, February 22, 2009

Book Review: Paul Brown (O'Toole)

Last fall, I negatively reviewed the recent bio of Paul Brown by George Cantor, and noted with hope the presence of another new bio of Paul Brown also titled simply the name of the subject. Well, I have now read Paul Brown: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Football's Most Innovative Coach by Andrew O'Toole, and can thankfully report that it is a much better biography than Cantor's. It's significantly more detailed, contains a bibliography and even footnotes (unobtrusive and easily ignorable, but proof of actual research). If you want to read one of the new biographies of Brown, I really can't think of a single decent reason to prefer Cantor over O'Toole.

So, how's the book? I have in some cases a high level for wholeheartedly recommending a book, and O'Toole's effort doesn't reach that standard. It's good, mind you, but nothing particularly exceptional. In another distressingly common reading experience, O'Toole fails to deliver on the promise of his subtitle-the fall is clearly Brown's experience of being fired in Cleveland by Modell, and the rise is probably putting the Bengals together and coming back as their coach, but the story isn't that convincing. Brown put together an exceptional team when he formed the Browns in the mid-1940's, but that was under exceptional circumstances-with an owner with a deep pocketbook, in an enviable position to find and evaluate good players, and with the good fortune to start out against opponents not generally of high quality (the AAFC had serious problems with weak teams). Future success (post-Otto Graham final retirement in 1955) was much more limited, suggesting that Brown had substantially shot his wad in terms of innovations. As is also common, even in football books, O'Toole is weak in terms of describing Brown's actual on-field innovation, to the extent it existed (probably, but I'm not sure exactly what).

Quibbles aside, if you're interested in learning more about Paul Brown's life and career, I can recommend to you Andrew O'Toole's Paul Brown.

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