In sports, it is difficult to replace a legendary coach.
He or she has delivered championships (or multiple championships) and has basically set the standard for success.
That being said, how difficult is it to follow not just one, but two successful coaches?
This question faced Nick Skorich in 1971.
Between his two predecessors, the Browns had won eight championships and appeared in 15 total title games.
In other words, Skorich had a lot to live up to.
In four years as head coach, Skorich did not do as well as Brown or Collier.
However, he is known for a number of other accomplishments during and after his time in Cleveland.
This is the story of Nick Skorich.
Early Life and Football Career
Nicholas Leonard Skorich was born on June 26, 1921 in Bellaire, Ohio.
From a young age, Skorich was immersed in football.
He played the sport as a guard at Bellaire High School and then the University of Cincinnati.
In 1943, Skorich joined the Navy to serve the country during World War II.
After fighting mostly in the European Theatre of the war (including the Normandy invasion) Skorich returned to football in 1946.
Before he went overseas, the Pittsburgh Steelers had drafted Skorich during the 1943 NFL Draft.
Nick Skorich(‘43) was an All-American lineman on both sides of the ball for @GoBearcatsFB. He played 3 seasons for the Pittsburg Steelers. He later went on to be the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Browns. He is a member of the UC Athletics HOF. pic.twitter.com/8CQmQU9gTG
— CliftonAve (@theCliftonAve) August 9, 2018
For the next three seasons (1946-1948), Skorich played offensive guard and nose tackle on defense.
The Steelers weren’t a great team at the time, but the 1947 squad finished 8-4 and lost to the Eagles in the Divisional round.
Sadly, it would be 25 years before the franchise would return to the postseason.
After the ‘48 season, Skorich retired.
Second Act as a Coach
Once he retired, Skorich didn’t travel very far to begin his second career as a coach.
From 1949-1952, he was the head coach at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.
In 1953, Skorich tried out his hand in the college ranks.
For only one season, he was the head coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York.
The following year, Skorich headed back to Pittsburgh to become an assistant with the Steelers.
He was employed as an offensive line coach and the unit thrived under Skorich’s direction.
Owing to his attention to discipline in mechanics and fundamentals, the Pittsburgh offensive line became adept at pass blocking.
Pittsburgh overall continued to struggle, unfortunately.
The best the organization did during Skorich’s four years (1954-1957) with the team was a 6-6 record in 1957.
In 1958, he moved to Green Bay to be their offensive line coach.
The Packers under head coach Ray McLean were awful.
That season, the Pack finished 1-10-1 and McLean was fired after the year.
Skorich returned again to Pennsylvania where his career would begin to see some life.
Skorich Leads the Eagles
By 1959, the Philadelphia Eagles were climbing out of the darkness.
The franchise had missed the postseason for the previous ten years.
Buck Shaw had taken over in 1958 and a 2-9-1 first year begat a 7-5 record in 1959.
Skorich arrived that same season to lead the offensive line.
The last Eagles rookie head coach to open up 2-0 was Nick Skorich in 1961. Eagles beat Browns 27-20 and Redskins 14-7.
— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) September 20, 2016
Under Skorich, the Eagles line became one of the best in the league.
They prevented a sack on quarterback Norm Van Brocklin during seven of their 12 games in ‘59.
Van Brocklin benefited from the masterful line play in 1960.
That season, Cleveland beat the Eagles in the first week of the season.
However, adjustments were made and the team did not lose again until Week 12.
Philly ended the year 10-2 and their first-place finish in the East Conference meant a spot in the NFL Championship game against the Packers.
Green Bay made a quick turnaround after Skorich left the organization.
After McLean was fired, Vince Lombardi took over and molded the team into a juggernaut.
The championship game was tight, but the Eagles eventually prevailed 17-13.
Surprisingly after the game, Shaw decided to retire, telling the assembled media, “I wanted to get out while I was ahead.”
Upon hearing the news, Lombardi praised his fellow coach saying he was “happy for him.” Lombardi added, “Seeing he’s going to retire, that’s a nice note for him to go out on.”
At that point, Shaw was the oldest NFL head coach to win a championship at 61 years of age.
The sudden head coach opening for the Eagles was filled by Skorich.
George Halas greets coach Nick Skorich before a 1961 Bears-Eagles game. @nflthrowback @phlsports @PHLSportsNation @PSPTalk @phillysport @Ol_TimeFootball @NFL_Journal @SportsDaysPast @cornerpubsports pic.twitter.com/lF0D24CDMj
— Eagles Over the Years (@EaglesOrtheYear) August 24, 2020
During the 1961 season, the team continued to perform well, though the offensive line wasn’t as good without Skorich devoting his full attention to the unit.
Philly ended the season 10-4 and second in the conference.
In 1962 and ‘63, the franchise cratered, only winning five games combined.
Without further ado, Skorich was fired following 1963.
Move to Cleveland
Skorich couldn’t have timed it better.
In 1964, Browns head coach Blanton Collier hired Skorich to be his defensive line coach.
Collier believed that Skorich knew offensive linemen and blocking techniques well.
So, it stood to reason that Skorich could then teach defensive linemen how to defeat those techniques.
Skorich’s D-linemen helped lead the defense to a fifth overall ranking in the NFL in ‘64.
That defense, in turn, helped pace the team to a 10-3-1 regular season record and dominate the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in the NFL Championship game.
On this day 55 years ago:
The Cleveland Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts 27-0 to win the 1964 NFL championship. pic.twitter.com/oRWS6ok3Vc
— Everything Cleveland (@everythingcle_) December 27, 2019
The victory gave Skorich two championships as an assistant.
The following year, Cleveland nearly repeated, losing to the Packers in the title game.
In 1968, Collier moved Skorich to offensive coordinator and saw immediate success.
The Browns offense ranked third in the league that season and made it to the NFL Championship game before succumbing to Baltimore.
Cleveland was third in the NFL again in 1969 and returned to the title game only to lose to Minnesota.
By 1970, Collier was almost deaf due to a severe hearing loss that had begun years earlier.
The Browns defeated the Jets in Week 1 of the ‘70 season in the first ever Monday Night Football game.
50 years ago, the Cleveland Browns played in the first-ever Monday Night Football game against the Jets. pic.twitter.com/JCpmZz22u3
— News 5 Cleveland (@WEWS) September 22, 2020
However, the rest of the year was a back-and-forth struggle on the way to a 7-7 record.
After the season ended, Collier retired.
Skorich Leads the Browns
After being offered the position by owner Art Modell, it was only fitting that Skorich took over for Collier in 1971.
Nick Skorich – 3rd Head Coach of the Browns – 1971 to 1974 https://t.co/aINa5vR7ww
— Dick Cabeza (@dcsportpipes) July 26, 2016
He knew the offense and the players well and the organization believed he was the best man for the job.
The ‘71 Browns returned to the playoffs after a 9-5 season and lost to the Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs 20-3.
Cleveland was even better in 1972.
The first thing the organization did well that year was draft a very talented rookie class.
Brian Sipe days until Browns football!!! pic.twitter.com/7lqdGmtIIe
— Steve Dzanko #D4L (@DzankoSteve) August 26, 2021
The quartet would eventually play a combined 336 games for Cleveland.
“Considering the caliber of the material in this draft, I’m satisfied with what we have come up with,” said Skorich after the draft.
Regarding future Kardiac Kid Sipe, Skorich added that the team would, “…bring him (Sipe) along behind the others and see what he can do.”
The Browns brought a 10-4 record into the ‘72 postseason and nearly upset an undefeated Miami team in the Divisional Playoffs 20-14.
The Dolphins would advance and win the Super Bowl to become the only undefeated franchise in NFL history.
In 1973, Cleveland began a long slide into mediocrity that would last until 1980.
Skorich’s offense in ‘73 was ranked 18th in the NFL and 15th a year later.
The Browns won seven games in ‘73, then only four in 1974.
That would be it for Skorich in Cleveland.
The Browns fired him and brought in former Packers star Forrest Gregg to be their new head coach.
In seven years as a head coach for the Eagles and Browns, Skorich was 45-48-5.
This included a 30-24-2 record in Cleveland, good for sixth all-time among Browns head coaches.
Life After Cleveland
After he left the Browns, Skorich was hired by the NFL to be the supervisor of officials.
Among the changes enacted during Skorich’s time as supervisor was the placement of the umpire.
He tweaked with the mechanics of the official and placed the umpire behind the defensive linemen.
Skorich would eventually pass away in 2004 due to complications from heart surgery.
His family would later start a scholarship fund in his name.