When Jim Shofner retired as a player following the 1963 season, it left a big void on the Browns.
After all, Shofner, the team’s first-round pick in the 1958 NFL Draft, became a starter at right cornerback in his second season of 1959 and held down the spot for the remainder of his six-year career.
The 13th overall choice from Texas Christian, Shofner tied Bobby Franklin for the team lead with eight interceptions in 1960, and finished second in both ’61 with five and ’62 (four). Having a combined total of 17 interceptions during that time is one of the best three-year totals in Browns history.
But Shofner’s departure as an assistant coach nearly two decades later probably left an even bigger void on the Browns.
Before they ever played a game in 1981, the Browns suffered a significant loss when Shofner, their quarterbacks coach, departed to become offensive coordinator of the AFC Central rival Houston Oilers.
Shofner had been with the Browns in that capacity since Sam Rutigliano took over as head coach in 1978 and was instrumental in the development of Brian Sipe into one of the game’s top quarterbacks.
Sipe had had an outstanding season in 1980, receiving the NFL Most Valuable Player award after leading the Browns to the division crown. From 1978-80, he threw 79 touchdown passes, the best three-season total in club history.
But Sipe, the offense and the Browns overall struggled en route to a 5-11 finish in 1981 without Shofner there.
Shofner’s decision to rake the Oilers job was certainly understandable in that it was a promotion -- he would be running the entire offense of a good club that needed to upgrade its passing game, which was his specialty -- and it also allowed him to go home. He was born in Grapevine, Tex. and went to high school in Ft. Worth in the Dallas area before playing at TCU.
Still, it was not easy for Shofner to leave Cleveland because of his two stints there as a player and coach.
Shofner went on to do a third stint with the Browns, coming back in 1990 as offensive coordinator. In fact, he ended up spending the last seven games that year as interim head coach after Bud Carson was dismissed.
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