Every decade or so, it seems like a Pittsburgh sport is blessed with a soul that elevates a team to greatness. For the Pirates, that was Roberto Clemente in the 1960’s (and into the 70’s). For the Penguins it was Mario Lemieux in the mid 80’s to late 90’s. And for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was Chuck Noll in the 70’s. Thus begins the cycle that has made Pittsburgh the “City of Champions.”
For a guy like Chuck Noll, it’s hard for the youngest generation of Steeler Nation to really understand the kind of man and coach Noll was. Unless you were a fan during those meager years of the 60’s, it’s hard to imagine the kind of impact Noll made when he picked up the clip board after serving time as an assistant under Sid Gillman. I only witnessed Noll’s coaching before I was even a teenager in the late 80’s, and his final years in 1990 and 1991. My grandfather and my dad became my sources of what Steeler Football was like during the Noll era. I was always filled with envy – wishing I could have witnessed those glorious years they were a part of when Noll first entered the coaching scene.
Noll was a quiet and private man. He never boasted in front of the mics and cameras. He never felt the need to vent any frustrations in front of the public eye. He was brief, to the point, and then it was time to move along. Noll IS “Steelers Football.” The kind of football that had become iconic and legendary for this organization. Coach Noll was masterful in the draft and nabbed all the pieces necessary for their Super Bowl runs: Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Lynn Swan, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster. No other coach has amassed this many Hall of Famers during such a short period of time, and no other has drafted four Hall of Famers in one single draft. These men paved the way to four Super Bowls in six seasons. The era of smash mouth football began in Pittsburgh during that time – The Steel Curtain. The kind of nasty that Steeler Nation had pined over for five decades. Like it’s in our blood.
Noll also became the icon for what helped define the Steelers as an organization full of class. As Art, Jr. would say about Noll to the Trib:
He was not a pizzazz guy. He knew where he was, where he was going and where he wanted to go and how to do it. He had a very, very strong moral compass. … My dad respected that.
Noll was the definition of class in the NFL. He helped his men become warriors on the field, but made sure that he and his team presented themselves well off the field. (I often wonder how he would deal with the personnel BS that rears its ugly head from time to time)
I don’t see current coaches dealing with players the way he did. It’s a different game now, and I see a lot of coaches getting caught up in the media with the way they deal with players. You see it on the sidelines. Chuck Noll was always consistent. You wouldn’t see him give a high five if you made a great play or get in your face if you made a bad play. – Mel Blount
He never griped or pitched negative vibes when he was never given the recognition he so rightly deserved during the four Super Bowl era. Oddly enough he did not win Coach of the Year honors until 1989. Noll left quietly and retired after the ’91 season. He had garnered a mountain of respect from the Rooney organization, that I’m sure had Noll respectfully bowing out rather than be publicly fired, even during those few trying years in the 80’s. Noll remained a rather private man after his time with the Steeler organization.
His quick induction into the Hall of Fame was no surprise and neither was his speech. He was brief (11 minutes) and gave all the credit of his success to those that surrounded him while he coached. Class.
Chuck Noll is the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers coach and the greatest NFL coach in the modern era. Period. Better than Bill Walsh. Better than Don Shula. Everyone puts Noll in the Top 5, and most put him second to Lombardi – only because he didn’t have as loud a mouth in public in the eye of the media. Noll’s achievements put into the context of the team and the NFL at the time, coupled with his personality and class, puts him at the top of the mountain.
Rest In Peace, Coach. Your legend will leave on forever in Steelers lore. And I’ll be sure to tell my son all about you.