Although considered a turning point in the team’s history, the results were not immediate; after winning the season opener against the Detroit Lions, the Steelers would go on to lose every game afterwards to finish 1–13. The Steelers would become the first team in NFL history since the 1936 Philadelphia Eagles to win its season opener and go on to lose every game remaining afterwards, a feat not matched until 2001 when the Carolina Panthers won its season opener against Minnesota before losing every game en route to a 1–15 finish. With the Steelers finishing 1–6 at Pitt Stadium, it would also mark the last time the Steelers would finish the season with a losing record at home until 1999.
As a result of the 1–13 record, the Steelers finished tied with the Chicago Bears for the league's worst record. Art Rooney would win a coin toss with George Halas to determine who would select Louisiana TechquarterbackTerry Bradshaw (the consensus number 1 selection among league teams) with the number one pick in the 1970 draft. By modern NFL tiebreaking rules, the Steelers would have automatically been given the first pick anyway, as the Bears' one win came against the Steelers in week 8.
This was the first season of Chuck Noll as head coach of the Steelers. Noll, the former defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Colts who was hired just days after the Colts loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III, was the team's 14th head coach in the franchise's history up to that point. But while it took 36 seasons to go through the first 13, Noll would stay through 1991 and would set the ground for coaching stability for the Steelers not seen in other NFL franchises today. Since Noll's retirement, only Bill Cowher and current head coach Mike Tomlin have been head coach of the Steelers.
One of Noll’s first actions was to release or trade all players he considered "dead wood" to the team. He wanted only players willing to give their best effort to the team. Only a handful of players were carried over from the 1968 squad as a result, most notably veterans Ben McGee, Andy Russell, Ray Mansfield, and Dick Hoak, the latter of which would become the team's running backs coach a few years later and would remain with the team in that capacity through the 2006 season. Rocky Bleier, who played his rookie season the year before and would later be a major contributor to the Super Bowl championship teams, was fighting in Vietnam during this time and would actually be wounded in combat just before the start of the season. This method of going through the "dead wood" of the team was similar to what Marvin Lewis would do decades later when he took over as the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach in 2003.
While the Steelers just missed out on drafting Heisman Trophy winner O. J. Simpson, Noll would use his first draft pick wisely, drafting North Texas Statedefensive tackleJoe Greene with the team's top pick, and fourth pick overall in that year's draft. Noll would say years later that Greene would've been selected even if they had the top overall pick, passing over Simpson. Although Simpson himself would also go on to a Hall of Fame career before legal troubles overshadowed his NFL accomplishments, this would set the groundwork of the Steelers excellent scouting in the draft, a practice that carries today.
Greene’s selection would not be met without controversy, however. The front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the next morning had a headline posted Who’s Joe Greene?, owing to his relative obscurity despite being named a consensus All-American selection his senior year. The team would also go on to draft Greene's defensive line mate, Arkansas AM&Ndefensive endL. C. Greenwood, in the tenth round. Greene and Greenwood would form the core of the famed Steel Curtain defensive line and would play their entire career as teammates, with both retiring at the end of the 1981 season. The following year, Noll would switch the team to a 3–4 defense, partially as a result of the retirement of two of his best defensive players.
Joe Gordon was also hired as the team’s public relations director this season. Though his role was more behind-the-scenes, he would remain with the team in that capacity through the 1998 season, second only to Dick Hoak in terms of tenure with the team outside of the Rooney family, third counting Steelers radio commentator Myron Cope, who was not employed by the team but through WTAE Radio and later WDVE on the official Steelers radio network.