CANTON, Ohio — Browns fans, you can once again breathe a sigh of relief.
Controversial former team owner Art Modell has fallen short of election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The man who controlled the club for over 30 years before taking it away was not named the final nominee for the Coach/Contributor Committee, with former Cardinals and Chargers coach Don Coryell instead getting the nod.
Modell bought the Browns in 1962 and sent shockwaves through the community later that year when he fired legendary coach Paul Brown, whom the franchise was named after. However, the move paid off, as the team remained among the NFL's elite under new coach Blanton Collier and even won the league title in 1964, their last world championship to date.
Outside of running the Browns, Modell was also respected among NFL owners for his abilities to negotiate lucrative television contracts, and was incredibly charitable in the Cleveland area. Unfortunately, some of his moves also caused the Browns to fall into mediocrity, including the partially forced retirement of three-time MVP Jim Brown, several botched drafts and trades (namely the dealing of Paul Warfield to the Miami Dolphins), and the firing of head coach Marty Schottenheimer in 1989 after four straight playoff appearances and two trips to the AFC Championship Game.
The final blow to Modell's legacy came in the fall of 1995, when the Brooklyn native stunningly announced he would be moving the Browns to Baltimore. Modell claimed he "had no choice" due to his precarious financial situation, and the local politics of the time may have also played a role, but the owner's lack of transparency throughout the process made him a reviled figure in Northeast Ohio. Despite several lawsuits, the team would indeed bolt for Maryland after the season, with the Browns name, colors, and history remaining in Cleveland for an eventual new franchise.
As owner of the now-Ravens, Modell hired immortal Cleveland tight end Ozzie Newsome as one of the NFL's first Black general managers, and the team rewarded his efforts with a Super Bowl championship after the 2000 season. Still, Modell was not able to shake the money problems that plagued him before, and three years later sold all but 1% of the organization to businessman Steve Bisciotti. Modell died in 2012 at the age of 87, and remains a beloved figure in Baltimore for "returning" football to the area.
As for the Browns, they indeed returned to the league in 1999, but have mostly struggled in the years since with just two playoff appearances and one postseason victory. The lack of success certainly did no favors to Modell's already sullied reputation, so much so that when Modell died just before the 2012 season opener, his family requested a moment of silence not be held for him inside Cleveland Browns Stadium, for fear of fans booing.
With Modell and 10 other nominees out, Coryell gets the opportunity his biggest supporters feel he should've gotten years ago, and he will earn election to the Hall of Fame should 80% of members of the full committee support his candidacy next year. While the late Coryell never even made the Super Bowl as a head coach, he did win 114 games with six playoff appearances in parts of 14 seasons leading St. Louis and San Diego, and was the NFL's Coach of the Year in 1974 with the Cardinals. His "Air Coryell" offense is also credited with opening up the league's passing attacks, as well as bolstering the Hall of Fame careers of players like Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, and Charlie Joiner.
The other 10 Coach/Contributor nominees who fell short of election this year were:
- Television executive and producer Roone Arledge
- Coach Mike Holmgren
- Front-office executive Frank "Bucko" Kilroy
- Patriots owner Robert Kraft
- Coach Buddy Parker
- Coach Dan Reeves
- Steelers vice president Art Rooney Jr.
- Coach Mike Shanahan
- Coach Clark Shaughnessy
- Front-office executive John Wooten (an All-Pro offensive lineman for the Browns)
Besides Coryell, former defensive stars Chuck Howley, Joe Klecko and Ken Riley will also be considered after being named finalists by the Senior Players Committee. The Hall has yet to consider its list of Modern-Era players, and beloved Browns left tackle Joe Thomas will be on the ballot for the first time this year.