Sports Heroes Who Served: Legendary Football Coaches Served in the Military

1 year ago

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Paul Brown and Howard Schnellenberger are well-known football coaches. Both also served in the military.

Paul Brown

Paul Brown is noteworthy in many ways. He founded the Cleveland Browns, a National Football League team named for himself. He also was one of the founders of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Brown coached his namesake team from 1946 to 1962, and he coached the Bengals from 1968 to 1975. He won four All-American Football Conference championships from 1946-1949 and three NFL championships: 1950, 1954 and 1955.

Brown's main contribution to football was strategy and preparation. He tested his players on their intelligence and their knowledge of plays; instituted strict organization of practices; and analyzed game film to get an edge on opponents. Brown also created a detailed system for scouting college talent. The success of this systematic approach forced other teams to follow suit. Most of Brown's organizational innovations are still in use today.

While Brown is a name football fans would readily recognize — if not for the person, at least for the team name — many probably don't know that he served in the Navy during World War II.

After receiving his commission as a lieutenant in 1944, he served at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station outside Chicago as head coach of the base's Bluejacket football team, which competed against other service and college teams. Brown's team finished with a winning 9–2–1 record.

The station was a waypoint for Navy recruits between training and active service in World War II, but its commanders took athletics seriously and saw winning as a morale-booster and a point of personal pride.

It was said that Brown's Navy football team experience helped launch his NFL career.

Howard Schnellenberger

Howard Schnellenberger played college football as an end for the University of Kentucky Wildcats and was named a 1955 All-American by the Associated Press and Newspaper Enterprise Association. He then played professionally for two seasons with the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts. He subsequently worked as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky in 1959 and 1960.

In January 1961, Schnellenberger joined the coaching staff of the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide as an assistant to head coach Paul William "Bear" Bryant. While on Bryant's staff, Schnellenberger helped recruit quarterbacks Joe Namath and Ken Stabler and helped coach Alabama to three national championships (1961, 1964 and 1965) in five seasons. 

In 1966, Schnellenberger became an offensive ends coach for the Los Angeles Rams. After four seasons with the Rams, Schnellenberger was hired by the Miami Dolphins in early 1970 as wide receivers coach and later the Dolphins' offensive coordinator. He helped coach the Dolphins to their undefeated 1972 season and victory in Super Bowl VII.

He then served in a number of coaching positions, mostly as head coach, from 1973 to 2011 with the Baltimore Colts, back to the Dolphins, Miami, Louisville, Oklahoma and Florida Atlantic. 

He retired in 2011 with a career collegiate coaching record of 158-151-3 and was 6-0 in bowl games.

Schnellenberger also served in the Army beginning in 1956.

"Football is the last place, outside of the military, where we have an opportunity to develop the proposition that the team is more important than the individual," he told Sports Illustrated magazine in 1995.

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