Chuck Noll had a lasting impact on the Steelers organization
You might think this is one of those “must be a slow news day” articles. After all, it’s mid-June and the Steelers are in the quiet part of their offseason.
But in mid-June, June 13 to be precise, was when Chuck Noll, the legendary Steelers head coach who changed the fate of the franchise, died in 2014 at the age of 82.
I’d like to think that someone would sometimes take the time to acknowledge Noll’s passing and his contributions to the organization, even if the date of his death fell right in the middle of a Steelers Super Bowl run. In fact, it would be entirely fitting since Noll was perhaps most responsible for giving the organization a reason to build a trophy showcase.
They were never needed for the first 36 years of the organization’s existence. The leader, the late Art Rooney, had probably had one erected somewhere at his team’s headquarters, but it was like the grill door at the bottom of an oven: was there ever a reason to open it? ?
Most astute and diehard Steelers fans know the story after Noll was hired in 1969. He arrived with a vision like no other coach had ever had before him. Noll built the team from the very foundation, and in his sixth season he finally gave the leader something to put in his trophy case. Five years later, after a victory over the Rams in Super Bowl XIV, the Chief was the proud owner of a fourth Lombardi. The Steelers went from pathetic losers who would be laughed at on the Tonight Show to mecca of the football world, all in a decade.
It was because of Chuck Noll. Yes, Dan Rooney, Art’s son and the man who convinced Dad to hire Noll, was in many ways the heart and soul of the organization – and the entire NFL – during his many years in as Steelers president and then majority owner, but Noll gave the Steelers their plan on how to win.
Dan Rooney said it after Noll passed away in 2014. Noll taught the Steelers how to win.
It was Noll who made building through the draft a Steelers ethos. It was Noll who created an environment in the locker room where players had to be self-reliant and hold each other accountable. “If I have to motivate you, I’ll fire you,” Andy Russell once said of Noll’s philosophy on heated pre-game speeches. But it was Noll who had the vision and the right timing to deliver perhaps the most important speech in franchise history in the days leading up to Pittsburgh’s trip to Oakland to face the Raiders in the game. 1974 AFC Championship: “The best fucking team is in this room.
It went like clockwork.
It was Chuck Noll who taught the Steelers to stay the course, even in adversity, and not to overreact to every little thing. That’s what Mike Tomlin means when he says, “Don’t blink!
It was Noll who believed that before you could win a game, you first had to not lose it.
Noll believed in a ball control offense and moving the shackles years before Bill Cowher called it “Smash mouth football”.
Noll also knew defense was important – it comes down to not losing the game before you can win it. He believed that you win by beating your opponent.
Obviously, Cowher subscribed to this theory in his day, and Tomlin does today.
But as conservative as Noll was, he knew how special Terry Bradshaw and his stable of offensive weapons were, and he let them fly in the late ’70s. football was turning into an aerial circus. Wouldn’t you know, Noll had the greatest show on Earth.
Years later, Cowher reluctantly took the reins from his young stud, Ben Roethlisberger, and it led to the team’s first Super Bowl trophy in 26 years. In a perfect world, Tomlin will have to do the same with Kenny Pickett, one day.
Noll certainly had his flaws as a head coach, and those were most apparent during the later stages of his career when Pittsburgh was trying to transition from the Super 70s into a new era that would bring more championship success. Noll made several failed attempts to recreate the magic of 1970s Steel Curtain defenses by using several first-round picks on underwhelming defensive linemen in the 1980s. Noll was fairly uninterested in hiring coaches assistants, but he was also extremely loyal to them when it was obvious that they weren’t doing the job.
Noll’s philosophy of not overreacting and staying the course seemed to turn negative during his final years as head coach as the game of football seemed to overtake him.
Yet despite organizational struggles over the last seven years of Noll’s tenure — the Steelers only made the playoffs once between 1985 and 1991 — he still managed to leave the closet pretty full. at Cowher when he was named head coach in 1992.
People often talk about Tomlin’s Super Bowl XLIII win with Cowher players, but check out this list of names: Rod Woodson, Dermontti Dawson, Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake, Neil O’ Donnell, John Jackson, David Little, Ernie Mills, Merril Hoge, Tunch Ilkin, Eric Green and Barry Foster. That’s a whole list of talents that a young head coach can inherit.
Many of these players managed to stick around for the duration of Cowher’s initial playoffs in the 1990s and were instrumental in the team’s march to Super Bowl XXX.
Noll coached 23 seasons in Pittsburgh and had 209 wins. Needless to say, he is the greatest head coach in franchise history.
It’s a bit of a shame he wasn’t celebrated as much as he probably should be, but that was mostly his fault. Again, he wasn’t a motivator, at least not verbally. No, Noll believed that the best way to motivate someone was to show them how to do the job. In other words, he liked to teach. The pleasure was there.
You know how people like to circulate memes with quotes they mistakenly attribute to famous people? You never see one with Noll’s likeness, because that would be ridiculous.
Noll didn’t want to be in the spotlight. He probably didn’t care that people often confused him with fellow head coach and contemporary Chuck Knox. He probably didn’t even care that many spell his last name with a K, which many fans still do to this day. Noll was not a personality. He wasn’t a fire and brimstone guy. He did not advertise. He didn’t work for the networks when his team was out of the playoffs.
Noll may not have cared about fame, but he sure made the Pittsburgh Steelers famous.
Dare I say, that’s why millions of people own a yellow towel. That’s probably why I’m sitting here about to finish this article on my favorite sports team.
Noll is probably why the Steelers are my favorite sports team.
Perhaps no one in the history of professional sports has had a bigger impact on an organization than Chuck Noll did on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rest in peace, emperor.