Chuck Noll, RIP

Discussion in 'Pittsburgh Steelers' started by Don Wassall, Jun 14, 2014.

  1. Don Wassall

    Don Wassall Administrator Staff Member

    Sep 30, 2004
    Chuck Noll was one of the all-time best NFL head coaches, and is still the only one with four Super Bowl victories. The Steelers from 1974 through '79 were one ass-kicking team, winning their four titles in that six season period, with the '76 team that lost to the Raiders in the AFC Championship game with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier injured being the strongest of them all.

    Noll was a lot like Bill Belichick -- introverted, contemptuous of the media, did things his way and never cared what anyone else thought or said. He was very knowledgeable about a lot of subjects and was a great football teacher.

    The dynasty teams of the '70s were usually half white and half black when it came to starters and majority white overall, about par for the course for that era, the last decade before the Caste System kicked in with a vengeance. Noll didn't adjust well in the second half of the '80s as the Steelers missed the playoffs from '85 through '88, but they began to turn it around in '89 with Bubby Brister at QB and Merrill Hoge at RB. However Noll then made the big mistake of hiring Joe Walton to run the offense in 1990 and the team promptly sank back into non-playoff mediocrity in '90 and '91, paving the way for Noll's retirement at the end of 1991 and the hiring of young Bill Cowher.

    Noll was just 37 when he was hired, and died yesterday at 82. Hard to believe how fast time goes by.
  2. sport historian

    sport historian Master

    Dec 18, 2004
    Yes, Noll didn't hide his contempt for the media, one reason he never got the hero-worship given to Vince Lombardi. Noll was always knocked for being a "poor interview."
  3. BeyondFedUp

    BeyondFedUp Master

    Oct 30, 2004
    United States
    Don and Sport, I have to admit that I respected Noll as a coach even though he broke my heart twice in the 70's beating Staubach and my then loved Cowboys in tough, hard-fought, Super Bowls, but he was truly great. And I respect him even more now knowing that he had contempt for the media.

    That era and what made the sport great is sadly over, in more ways than I care to think of...
  4. Don Wassall

    Don Wassall Administrator Staff Member

    Sep 30, 2004
    Here's a fine tribute to Chuck Noll by the usually sophomoric Gene Collier. Really worth a read as it captures the essence of the man:

    Noll left superbly, quietly into night

    By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    At the end, Charles Henry Noll left this world just about exactly the way he strode through it for more than eight decades, as quietly and inconspicuously as could be.

    As an unintended little salute to a life spent modestly in the deep background, the first email I got about the death of the only coach to win four Super Bowls had his name spelled wrong.

    Of that Noll would be bemused.

    But you should know that he would absolutely detest what we're doing right now, searching for the words and sentiments that best illuminate our loss, which he would find so unnecessary and, worse, so inefficient. He would urge us then, quietly and in but a few pointed words, to end this exercise and get on with our lives' work.

    Even on the practice fields where he turned the Steelers from a bad joke into an enduring empire, Chuck rarely could be heard by anyone save the occasional player he would pull aside for some corrective instruction. He carried no whistle, and yet commanded the attention of everyone attuned and often fearful of his every utterance. When it was time to end one practice period and start another, he would just whistle through his teeth and jog to another station.

    Not just an NFL Colossus and not just the most cerebral architect of a dynastic football brand, Noll was among those people you must be grateful just to have encountered in a life.

    Though he was by no means a humorist, Noll's wit could gleam like a razor. Once, on the lawn at Saint Vincent College, he was asked when a particular player might return from injury.

    "The doctors say it takes an average person four to six weeks to recover," Noll said, "and Chris fits into that category."

    See? A second ago there was nothing, and now, blood everywhere.

    Once I got in my stupid columnist's head that it would be funny if I could get Noll to address the evident shortage of cheerleaders around the club, the kind that had been making so many NFL sidelines gyrate.

    "Would it help us win?" he said, very nearly smiling, but without turning his head.

    "Would it hurt?" I said.

    And then he did turn his head toward me. Slowly. And oh the glare. It was clear he would not be taking any follow-up questions on that topic.

    Noll encounters were best in the summer, which he considered the start of the school year. He was Dean of Students.

    Over some 30 years, the best thing I ever saw in Latrobe was probably Chuck Noll conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony, a good part of which had arrived one evening right after dinner for a short concert. Though he hated his minimal public relations responsibilities and harbored a loathing for gimmicky that ran deep into his own playbook, Noll took a position in front of some of the world's greatest musicians without an ounce of self-consciousness.

    This was no bear-on-a-unicycle show.

    Noll wanted to do this.

    He loved music. Played guitar. And his hands that night moved with the purpose of a conductor, with rhythm and purpose and even flourish. The smile he wore that night and the ones he flashed while holding any of the four Lombardi Trophies could not be differentiated.

    "Whenever you generalize," he'd say. "You're wrong."

    One night in July 1987, I was walking out of the dorm and heard some coaches arguing in what was then The Beer Room. I figured perhaps tensions were just a bit high that summer, with the club coming off a 6-10 season and fairly desperate to return to competence. I was wrong.

    It had been a loud "discussion," sources indicated, led by Noll, who was not happy with the performance of one Oliver North at the Congressional hearings into the Iran-Contra affair.

    "He broke the law!" was Noll's point of emphasis, according to my source.

    North had been the point man in an elaborate scheme to sell weapons to Iran and use a portion of the proceeds to fund Nicaraguan rebels, the Contras. He had been preceded to Capitol Hill for hearings by his chief document shredder, the lovely Fawn Hall.

    That it was heartening to me that Noll could scare up a discussion in a room full of NFL coaches who purported to be following the Iran-Contra hearings, most of whom probably thought Fawn Hall was the campus building next to the Saint Vincent cafeteria, it was also a foreshadowing.

    In some ways, at least professional, Noll was becoming "The Man Who Knew Too Much."

    A pilot, a sailor, a wine connoisseur, a musician, a student of seemingly everything, Noll stood out in a post-dynastic decade when the league's hottest young coaches, such as Joe Gibbs and Dick Vermeil, had begun sleeping in their offices to gain any possible margin of football intelligence on their opponents.

    The world was going hyper-focused, and Noll's mind was way too vast and fertile and uber curious for that kind of thing. He would never admit that, and why should he?

    But over the next five years, Noll's teams would go 38-41, and after the 1991 season, when Dan Rooney wanted coaching staff and front office changes, Noll considered an abridgement of his authority, the coach said it was time to go.

    Knowledge is power, and maybe it's a powerful thing to know that Noll won more games than all the Steelers coaches who preceded him combined, and that he won more games than Bill Cowher and more games than Mike Tomlin and more Super Bowls than any coach ever.

    But the even more powerful thing to know is that none of that, in the end, came close to explaining this one long, modest, quiet life.
  5. Carolina Speed

    Carolina Speed Master

    Feb 13, 2011

    Much respect for Coach Noll. I should have commented earlier about his passing. I was always a Dallas fan and the Steelers always beat my Cowboys in the 70's. Yes, like Coach Tom Landry, Coach Noll seemed to be fair when it came to playing white players. Both coaches played lots of Caucasians and both were Christians.

Share This Page