It didn’t take the Browns long, nor did they have to look far, to find their new head coach 50 years ago.
It was on Jan. 16, 1963 that team owner Art Modell announced the hiring of Blanton Collier, who was an offensive assistant with the team.
The move came just seven days after legendary Paul Brown, the only coach the Browns had ever had and the man for whom the team is named, was fired. Thus, Modell kept good on his promise to find Brown’s replacement within 10 days of his Jan. 9 dismissal.
Collier, who was 56 at the time, received a three-year contract, though he would end up staying much longer.
A native Kentuckian, Collier had been an assistant coach on the first eight Browns teams from 1946-53 before leaving to return home and become head coach at the University of Kentucky. He was let go there after the 1961 season, and was re-hired by Brown.
Collier was an instant hit after taking over in Cleveland. Abandoning Brown’s famous messenger guard system of sending in offensive plays rather than letting the quarterback call them, he empowered the players. He was popular with them and they played hard for him, as evidenced by the fact that his first team in 1963 started 6-0 and finished just a game behind the arch rival New York Giants in the Eastern Conference at 10-4.
It represented the club’s most regular-season wins since going 11-1 in 1953, and a marked improvement over 1962’s 7-6-1 finish.
The Browns came back in 1964 and did even better, going 10-3-1 to win the East on the way to capturing the franchise’s first NFL championship in nine years with a 27-0 upset of the Baltimore Colts.
The Browns were 11-3 in 1965 and went back to the title game again, only to lose, 23-12, to the Green Bay Packers.
They also made it to the NFL Championship Game in both 1968 and ’69, falling, 34-0, to the Colts and then, 27-7, to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Browns advanced to the postseason in 1967 as well, meaning they qualified for the playoffs five times in Collier’s eight years.
He retired because of a hearing problem following a 7-7 finish in 1970, which was the only time the club posted a non-winning record in his tenure.
Collier had a career regular-season mark of 76-34-2 (.688) and an overall record of 79-38-2 (.672).
But Collier wasn’t through coaching with the Browns. He returned to the team a third time, in 1975 and ’76, as quarterbacks coach under head coach Forrest Gregg.
One of his “pupils” was a young player by the name of Brian Sipe. It should be noted that Sipe made big strides in those two years. That’s not surprising considering Collier’s knowledge of the game, his ability to relate to people and his teaching skills.
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