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Chuck Noll: The Coach that Saved a City

Everything was falling apart around us except the Steelers.

by
J. Christian Adams

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June 16, 2014 - 5:10 am
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Dejan Kovacevic has this poetic and wonderful piece at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on the passing of Chuck Noll, the greatest NFL coach, ever.

Ever? Kovacevic:

Noll won not just by being the greatest coach in football history, with all due nods to Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Bill Belichick and all others whose ring count is lower than four. He did so by being the quintessential Pittsburgher.

But Kovacevic’s piece isn’t about comparing the greatness of NFL coaches against each other.  It’s about describing the greatness of a man, an introspective, brilliant and understated man who saved a city.

noll

Saved a city?

If you don’t see a correlation there, chances are excellent you don’t have first-hand familiarity with what truly made those Steelers of the 1970s so Super.

It was a terrible time. The steel mills that employed nearly half the city were closing en masse. The surrounding businesses were failing with them. Pittsburghers were out of work, out of luck and, soon, out of town: From 1970-80, the city’s population was slashed by 96,179, per the U.S. Census. Almost 20 percent! Some fled for the D.C. area and government jobs, others for new economies in the South and West, others just for sanity’s sake.

We were Beirut without the bombs, Chernobyl without the radiation. . . . This was just how it was going to be, they’d say. Pittsburgh had its time. Now that was done.

Crazy thing would happen every Sunday during football season, though.

Yeah, on those days, all was well. Because Pittsburgh ruled.

Kovacevic is right. On Sundays during football season, a city stopped and witnessed an amazing run of four Super Bowls in just six seasons – a feat that no team is ever likely to match again. It wasn’t just that the Steelers had a swarm of Hall of Famers starting – Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, the ferocious headhunter Jack Lambert, Mel Blount and Joe Green – and more. They also had a coach who was unlike any other. They had a coach who tapped the best in players and called them to find the purpose of their life, even if it wasn’t football.

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All Comments   (13)
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The enthusiasm for Steelers was (and often still is) infectious. I was in traction with a back injury over Christmas and New Years in '78/79. I'd done things in my life but football wasn't one of them. Just one of those people who didn't think I could appreciate a game I hadn't played. So much to appreciate on so many levels!

Thanks to Chuck Noll, the Rooney's and the Steelers (in all their manifestations over the last 30 years), I can say that I live 50 miles from Pittsburgh and somebody will know what that means.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Okay, rushed post. I was in the hospital, really watching football with interest for the first time, and the guy next to me was from Steubenville, Ohio. Big fan who talked me through with his own color commentary! Funny memory...
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Let me preface by saying the Steelers have always been my 2nd favorite NFL team, and I believe Knoll was a rare talent for seeing talent, and subsequently his teams were one of the first to really take drafting as seriously as it is taken today, with draft boards, and a host of scouts, etc. He was also the quiet motivator, not a rah rah, yelling/shouting mold like so many in the NFL. However, I take issue with Kovacevic's either poorly researched or deliberately misleading boast that a reason Knoll was THE best is because he had the most "rings." That may be, but he isn't counting NFL Championships, which were the standard before the NFL/AFL merger. If you take that into account, Halas, Lambeau and Lombardi all have more than Knoll.
Secondly, the dig at all time greats like Bill Walsh, again with the snarky, italicized "who's ring count is lower than four," was just unnecessary. And does anyone really doubt Walsh would have got the fourth had he not retired right after his third one?
Lastly, a huge measure of a head coach's greatness is the innovation that he lends to the game. George Halas, Tom Landry, Bill Belichick, and Hank Stram, just to name a few, are far and away considered to be some of the most innovative championship coaches of all time.
Again, I love the Steelers and think Knoll was one of the all time greats, but the greatest ever? I don't believe so.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have it on good authority that that's not what this article is about.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
;)
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ever notice the correlation between the success in football and baseball.

Jets win Super Bowl in 1969. Mets win World Series.

Steelers win Superbowl in 1979. Pirates win World Series.

Eagles reach Super Bowl in 1980. Phillies win World Series.

49ers win Super Bowl in 1989. Giants make World Series.

Patriots win Super Bowl in 2004. Red Sox win World Series.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was a student in Pittsburgh back in the late Seventies and have always felt like it was my second, or maybe third, home town. (I studied for my undergraduate at Penn State and I still have many fond memories of State College, PA, too. I'm a Virginia boy, but I love Pennsylvania, except for the winters!) My affections for Chuck Noll and the Steelers run exceedingly high.

But I would question whether Noll was the greatest football coach of all time.

What were Noll's strengths? Nobody had a keener eye for talent. His 1974 draft is considered not just Pittsburgh's best draft in history, but the best in NFL history. Four future Hall of Famers were snagged: John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, and Mike Webster. Pick up one player of that caliber, and you have a successful draft. Two, and it was wildly successful. Four was and still is amazing.

Noll was also a great trainer. He believed that you won the games in the trenches by knowing your job at the most fundamental level, with concentration and crisp execution. He placed no faith in emotionalism, believing that good technicianship was the key.

Noll was also brutally honest. On his first day with his team, he told them, "I've watched a lot of film and I know why you're losing." This is when most coaches unpack the bromides and rah-rah pep talks. But that's most coaches, not Chuck Noll. "You're losing because you're not very good, and I'm going to replace most of you." But his veterans eventually grew to appreciate Noll's straight-shooting style.

So, then, why not the greatest? I think he underappreciated the role of the quarterback, referring to it as "just another position." Particularly as the rule changes favored the passing game more and more (e.g., the so-called "Mel Blount" Rule), old-school coaches like Noll and Tom Landry became less competitive relative to the new West Coach offense coaches like Don Coryell and Bill Walsh. Noll owed a lot of his success to an underappreciated Terry Bradshaw. On the other hand, Noll did keep him around in spite of his earlier inconsistencies, so he does get credit for seeing the talent in Bradshaw.

However, in Noll's heyday, there was certainly no one better. You were a great coach, Chuck Noll. Rest in peace.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
One other thing - Noll won Superbowls after the Mel Blount rule was implemented. He turned the Steeler's offense into a long range passing attack. To be sure, that's what beat the Rams in SB14. In the 1978 and 1979 seasons he certainly did NOT underappreciate the roll of the QB or WR in a passing game.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yet, in the years after Bradshaw, the Steelers went through, in rough order: Cliff Stoudt, Dave Woodley, Mark Malone, and Bubby Brister and Steve Bono.

Bono wasn't bad. He had a decent career as a backup. Stoudt enjoyed some success as a USFL quarterback. Woodley was a Don Schula castoff. All were very inconsistent. As a fan, I never felt there was any sense of urgency with the Steeler organization to get a quarterback who could compete with the likes of Boomer Esiason or Joe Montana.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
At least they tried with Malone. The team spent a #1 draft pick on him. Stoudt was a placeholder and absent injuries, Malone might have worked. When you spend a #1, you're serious. They just missed and by the time Malone wasn't working, the decade was half gone.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Q: Why did President Reagan summon Malone to the White House?
A: He needed someone to overthrow Qaddafi.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hey reformed - that isn't what the article is about. It's why it says:

But Kovacevic’s piece isn’t about comparing the greatness of NFL coaches against each other. It’s about describing the greatness of a man, a introspective, brilliant and understated man who saved a city

Perhaps I should go back and put that graph in bold and italics, maybe even a larger font.

22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, excuuuse me.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
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