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24 Club: Paul Brown, the legend who led Ohio State to its first National Championship

Head coach of Ohio State at 33 years old, Brown led the Buckeyes to a national title in his second season.

The Massillon Museum

There have been 24 head coaches in the history of Ohio State football. Each has a story and legacy. This offseason, Land-Grant Holy Land’s new series 24 Club will help you get to know the coaches from past and present who built the program. Today we look at OSU’s 15th head coach — Paul Brown, who led the program to its first national championship in his second season as head coach.

Name: Paul Brown
Seasons Coached: Three (1941-1943)
Overall Record: 18-8-1

Where Does He Rank in the 24 Club?
Overall Wins: No. 13 out of 24 OSU Coaches
Winning Percentage: No. 15 out of 24 OSU Coaches

Entering the 1941 season, Ohio State had nearly done it all. Banners of Big Ten Championships hung in the Horseshoe — the most recent from two years earlier in 1939. But it had been three seasons since OSU beat Michigan — and the Buckeyes were coming off a down 4-4 year that led to the resignation of coach Francis Schmidt.

Ohio State turned to a 33-year-old high school coach from Massillon, Ohio. His name was Paul Brown. As a coach, Brown’s reputation already approached that of lore. He prioritized speed over size in his players — and his Massillon Tigers raced to six consecutive state championships from 1935-1940. While Brown didn’t have experience coaching at the college level, he already had experience beating college competition. In a 1940 scrimmage against Kent State University, Brown’s Massillon highschoolers ran the college team off the field, 47-0.

So it wasn’t a big surprise that Brown quickly took Ohio State’s play to the next level. Brown’s Buckeyes finished 6-1-1 in 1941. In his second season in 1942, OSU finished 9-1 and captured the program’s first ever National Championship. Brown coached a final year for OSU in 1943, which saw nearly all of OSU’s best players away training and deploying for World War II. Doing his part in the war effort, Brown served as football coach at the Great Lakes Navy base outside of Chicago from 1944 to 1945. Great Lakes played other military bases and schools as part of the military’s emphasis on athletics to boost the morale of troops.

After the war ended, OSU officials expected Brown to return to coach the team — but he got an offer to join the startup All-America Football Conference. Soon he had a team bearing his name in Cleveland. Brown’s tenure at Ohio State was brief, and he finished with a 1-1-1 record against Michigan. Nevertheless, he left his mark by becoming the first coach to lead OSU to a National Championship.

If Ohio State could find a coach that could win titles and stick around, the program would be powerful. It would take some time — and several more coaches — before the Buckeyes finally found their perfect match.