Chuck Noll was a no-nonsense coach, and his Pittsburgh Steelers followed his lead to win four Super Bowls.
Noll, who died Friday of natural causes at 82, wasn’t an entertainer or a charmer when it came to football. He was a winner, the only man to coach four Super Bowl champions, building a dynasty in Pittsburgh for a franchise that hadn’t won an NFL title before he arrived in 1969.
“When Chuck became our head coach he brought a change to the whole culture of the organization,” Steelers President Art Rooney said Saturday. “Even in his first season when we won only one game, there was a different feel to the team. He set a new standard for the Steelers that still is the foundation of what we do and who we are. From the players to the coaches to the front office down to the ball boys, he taught us all what it took to be a winner.”
Noll was a sharp strategist, brilliant evaluator of personnel and strong motivator.
“He was the glue,” said former linebacker Jack Ham, a Hall of Famer like Noll – and so many members of those Steelers teams. “He was the guy that got all of us to buy into how to win a championship. He took the lead.
“Preparation. He always felt you don’t win games on Sunday at 1 p.m., you win games in your preparation on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at practice. I think we all bought into that.”
While Noll’s success on the sideline – a 209-156-1 record in 23 seasons – defined him professionally, football did not dominate his existence. Indeed, he insisted that everyone around him have hobbies and enjoy life away from the field.
Noll was a licensed pilot who flew himself and assistant coaches on scouting trips. He was a wine connoisseur and enjoyed cooking. He had a passion for jazz.
When Tony Dungy was dating his future wife, Noll gave him a recipe to cook for dinner that Dungy says “must have worked.”
Dungy, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, remembers a scouting trip to New Orleans with Noll during which they hit many memorable restaurants and jazz spots. Dungy thought he was about to be elevated to defensive coordinator, but they were so busy in the Big Easy he never asked Noll if he was getting the job.
Dungy finally found out he got the position when they returned to Pittsburgh.
“Most of what I clung to from him was how to deal with people, how to structure your life, how to hire coaches,” Dungy said. “He stressed that you couldn’t get burned out from football, couldn’t let football be everything in your life. He made sure we got away from the game.”
Noll left the game after the 1991 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame two years later. The lessons he taught his players remain constants in their lives.
“The man was just so consistent in his belief that we just believed everything he said,” said Joe Greene, yet another Hall of Fame player for Noll. “He was a man who wasn’t about any kind of hyperbole at all. You got the same Chuck all the time.
“Being the first (draft) pick, I haven’t been able to find any relevance in that. But I do know having Chuck as a coach made all the difference in the world in having the career that I had as a Pittsburgh Steeler.”
Commissioner Roger Goodell called Noll’s quiet leadership “extraordinary.”
“What set Chuck Noll apart was his remarkable ability as a teacher,” Goodell said. “His subject was football and his students became four-time Super Bowl champions. He always put the team, his players, and the game first. His legacy of excellence will forever be an important part of the history of the Steelers and the NFL.”
Owned by the Rooneys since joining the NFL in 1933, the Steelers have always been known for their family-like atmosphere. Noll believed strongly in such an environment and fostered it, a sometimes difficult chore while trying to win championships.
Yet the Steelers went from doormats to dynasty under him.
“As for the football end of it, I think he ranks with (George) Halas and (Vince) Lombardi,” Steelers owner Dan Rooney said Saturday. “There are many other good coaches over the history of the NFL, but I think Chuck Noll ranks up there with those other two guys right at the top. No other coach won four Super Bowls, and the way he did it was with dignity. His players were always his concern, both in treating them well and giving them what they needed to succeed on the field.”