Chuck Noll

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Chuck Noll
Chuck Noll 1954.jpg
Noll in 1954.
Personal information
Date of birth (1932-01-05)January 5, 1932
Place of birth Cleveland, Ohio
Date of death June 13, 2014(2014-06-13) (aged 82)
Place of death Sewickley, Pennsylvania
Career information
Position(s) Head Coach
Guard
Linebacker
College Dayton
NFL Draft 1953 / Round 20/ Pick 239
Career highlights
Awards 1972 UPI AFC Coach of the Year
1989 Maxwell Football Club NFL Coach of the Year
Honors NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
NFL 1980s All-Decade Team
2011 Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame
Head coaching record
Career record 209–156–1
(Including Postseason)
Super Bowl wins Super Bowl XIV
Super Bowl XIII
Super Bowl X
Super Bowl IX
Championships won 1979 AFC Championship
1978 AFC Championship
1975 AFC Championship
1974 AFC Championship
Stats
Playing stats DatabaseFootball
Coaching stats Pro Football Reference
Coaching stats DatabaseFootball
Team(s) as a player
1953–1959 Cleveland Browns
Team(s) as a coach/administrator
1960–1961

1962–1965


1966–1968

1969–1991
AFL L.A./San Diego Chargers
(Defensive Line)
San Diego Chargers
(Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backfield)
Baltimore Colts
(Def. Coordinator/Def. Backfield)
Pittsburgh Steelers
(Head Coach)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1993

Charles Henry "Chuck" Noll (January 5, 1932 – June 13, 2014) was a professional American football player, assistant coach and head coach. His sole head coaching position was for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League from 1969 to 1991. When Noll retired after 23 years, only three other head coaches in NFL history had longer tenures with one team.[1]

In 1969 Noll took the helm of a moribund franchise (which had played in only one post-season game in its previous 36 years, a game it lost 21-0), and turned it into a perennial contender. As head coach won nine AFC Central Division championships, and he compiled a 209-156-1 record in all games, including a 16-8-0 post-season record, and had winning records in 15 of his final 20 seasons.[2] His four Super Bowl victories remains more than any other head coach in NFL history. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, his first year of eligibility.

Noll built the team through astute drafting and meticulous tutoring. During his career, he was notable for the opportunities he gave African Americans, starting the first African American quarterback and having the first black assistant coach. He was frequently credited with maintaining the morale of the Western Pennsylvania region despite a steep economic decline by fashioning a team of champions in the image of its blue collar fan base.

An introvert who shunned personal publicity, Noll refused to court the press, turned down numerous opportunities for commercial endorsements and never became a football commentator or broadcaster. As a result, his achievements were frequently overlooked by awards committees, sports journalists and sports historians.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Childhood[edit]

Noll was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest of three siblings (by eight years) of William Noll (a butcher, frequently unable to work owing to Parkinson's disease) and Katherine Steigerwald Noll (who worked for a florist).[3] The family lived in the house Noll's mother grew up in with her twelve siblings, near East 74th Street,[4] in a neighborhood with a large African-American population,[3] a fact that helps account for Noll's early championing of opportunity for African Americans in the NFL (both players from traditionally black colleges and later as coaches). On a local youth football team Noll played with Harold Owens, the nephew of Olympic star Jesse Owens.[5]

High school[edit]

Noll early showed his ability to pursue a goal single-mindedly when he conceived the idea of going to Benedictine High School. He began working in seventh grade and by time he entered high school, he had saved enough for two year's worth of the $150 tuition. Throughout high school he continued to work, making 55 cent an hour at Fisher Brothers meat market after school.[4] Education was always important to him, so despite the schedule, he studied enough to graduate 28th in a class of 252.[3]

He played running back and tackle on the high school football team, winning All-State honors.[5] During his senior year he was named to the All Catholic Universe Bulletin team by the Diocese of Cleveland newspaper.[6]

College[edit]

Noll planned to attend Notre Dame, but during a practice before his freshman year he suffered an epileptic seizure on the field.[3] Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy refused to take the risk of allowing Noll to play there and so Noll accepted a football scholarship to the University of Dayton. Noll graduated with a degree in secondary education.[5] As a member of the Dayton Flyers football team, he was a lineman, linebacker and a co-captain,[5] and acquired the nickname, the "Pope," for his "'infallible' grasp of the game."[7]

Player for Cleveland Browns[edit]

Noll was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 20th round 1953, where he played until his retirement in 1959. During his first year, the Browns lost to the Detroit Lions in the NFL championship. The next two years the Browns were NFL champions.

Although drafted as a linebacker,[8] Coach Paul Brown used the undersized Noll as one of his "messenger guards" to send play calls to the quarterback (beginning with Otto Graham). Brown recalled that Noll soon "could have called the plays himself without any help from the bench. That's how smart he was."[7] According to Art Rooney, Jr. (director of scouting for the Steelers before and during most of Noll's tenure), however, Noll felt demeaned by Brown's use of him in that way and "disliked the term 'messenger boy' so much that as coach of the Steelers he entrusted all the play calling to his quarterbacks."[9]

Noll's was paid only $5,000 per season with the Browns and so while there he acted as substitute teacher at Holy Name High School[10] and sold insurance on the side.[4] During that period Noll also attended Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at night. He told Dan Rooney that he decided against becoming a lawyer because "he didn't really like the constant confrontation and arguments that come with being a lawyer."[11]

Instead, when Noll lost the starting guard position to John Wooten, he chose to retire at age 27 expecting to begin his coaching career at his alma mater. He was surprised, however, when he was not offered an open position on the University of Dayton coaching staff.[12] Fortunately, he was offered a position by Sid Gillman on the staff of the Los Angeles Chargers, during its inaugural season.[8]

Coaching career[edit]

Assistant coaching career[edit]

Noll was an assistant coach for the American Football League's then Los Angeles and later San Diego Chargers from 1960 to 1965. He then became assistant to head Coach Don Shula of the NFL Baltimore Colts from 1965 to 1968, when he was selected as the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers' head coach.

Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers[edit]

Noll is considered part of Sid Gillman's coaching tree. He later remembered Gillman as "one of the game's prime researchers and offensive specialists. In six years, I had more exposure to football than I normally would have received in 12 years."[12] During Noll's six year tenure with the Chargers, where he was defensive line coach, the defensive backfield coach and defensive coordinator, the team appeared in five AFL championship games.[13] Gillman said that Noll "had a great way with players," specifically "If a guy didn't do the job expected, Chuck could climb on his back."[14] Massive defensive tackle Ernie Ladd said that Noll was a "fiery guy" but also "the best teacher I ever played under." "He and I were always fighting, always squabbling, but he had a great way of teaching. I take my hat off to Chuck. He was one of the main reasons for our success."[14] The defensive line under Noll became known as the "Fearsome Foursome," and during 1961 defensive end Earl Faison was named AFL rookie of the year.

During Noll's time at Chargers, Al Davis was also an assistant and scout. Davis would later become coach and general manager of the Oakland Raiders, the principal AFC rival of the Steeler's in the 1970s.

Baltimore Colts[edit]

At the Colts Noll was defensive backfield coach and later defensive coordinator. Together with assistant coach Bill Arnsbarger the Colts employed shifting alignments of rotating zone and maximum blitz defensive packages.[15] In 1968, Noll's last season as defensive coordinator, the Baltimore Colts compiled a record of 13–1 and tied the NFL season record for fewest points allowed (144).[16]

Shula was impressed by Noll's approach: "He explained how to do things and wrote up the technique. He was one of the first coaches I was around that wrote up in great detail all of the techniques used by players—for example, the backpedal and the defensive back's position on the receiver. He was like a classroom teacher."[4]

The 1968 Colts won the NFL championship by routing the Cleveland Browns 34–0 in Cleveland, but were shocked by the upstart AFL champion New York Jets, 16–7, in Super Bowl III at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The next day Noll interviewed for the head coach position in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Steelers[edit]

Noll was named the 14th head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 27, 1969, after Penn State coach Joe Paterno turned down an offer for the position. He was the youngest coach in NFL history at the time.[17] Steelers owner Art Rooney would later credit Don Shula as the person that recommended Noll as a head coach.[18] Noll implemented a defensive system in Pittsburgh that became the legendary "Steel Curtain" defense. His coaching style earned him the nickname of The Emperor Chaz by sports announcer Myron Cope.[19] Noll is the only head coach to win four Super Bowls, coaching the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl IX (1975), Super Bowl X (1976), Super Bowl XIII (1979), and Super Bowl XIV (1980).

The key to Noll's coaching success during this unprecedented run was the Steelers' skill in selecting outstanding players in the NFL college player draft. Noll's first round one pick was Joe Greene, a defensive tackle from North Texas State, who went on to become a perennial All-Pro and anchor the defensive line. During the next few years, the Steelers drafted quarterback Terry Bradshaw (Louisiana Tech) and running back Franco Harris (Penn State) as round one picks. In the 1974 draft, Noll and the Steelers achieved a level of drafting success never seen before or since, when they selected four future Hall of Fame players with their first five picks: wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, middle linebacker Jack Lambert, and center Mike Webster. To this day, no other draft by any team has included more than two future Hall of Famers.

A meticulous coach, Noll was known during practice to dwell on fundamentals--such as the three-point stance--things that professional players were expected to know. For instance, Andy Russell, already a Pro Bowl linebacker before Noll arrived and one of the few players Noll kept after purging the roster his first year, was told by Noll that he didn't have his feet positioned right.[20] As a result of Noll's attention to detail, Russell went on to become a key member for the first two Super Bowl teams and started the linebacker tradition that continues today in Pittsburgh .

While most of his contemporaries (as well as current NFL head coaches) enforced strict curfew rules on its players, Noll was very lax on off-the-field behavior. This was shown at Super Bowl IX. While Noll's counterpart — Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant — strictly kept his team in their hotel rooms except for practice before the game, Noll told his team upon arriving in New Orleans to go out on Bourbon Street "and get the partying out of your system now."[21] It can be argued that Noll allowing his players to go out while in New Orleans helped them be more relaxed when they played the Vikings and contributed to their 16-6 win.

The hallmark of the team during the 1970s was a stifling defense known as the Steel Curtain. Linemen L. C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, linebackers Jack Ham, and Jack Lambert had a collective level of talent unseen before in the NFL.

The teams that won Super Bowls IX and X used a run-oriented offense, primarily featuring Franco Harris and blocking back Rocky Bleier. Over the next few years, Terry Bradshaw matured into an outstanding passer, and the teams that won Super Bowls XIII and XIV fully utilized the receiving tandem of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

Noll was never a coach who sought a lot of media attention, and his 1970s teams were so talented that his contributions as head coach (and architect of the team) often were overlooked.

In 1989, Noll finally achieved some recognition as NFL Coach of the Year, when he guided the Steelers into the second round of the playoffs. The team was not especially talented and lost its first two regular season games by scores of 51–0 and 41–10. However, Noll did a remarkable job in keeping the team focused and steadily improving its play as they made the playoffs and played competitively in two playoff games.

Post-coaching life[edit]

Noll retired as Steelers head coach after the 1991 season with a record of 209–156–1, regular season and postseason combined. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

The last team he coached gave him a gift of a stationary bicycle, which he avidly used.

Noll maintained a residence in suburban Pittsburgh, however he spent some time at his Florida home. His mobility was limited by chronic back problems. Noll held the ceremonial title of Administration Adviser in the Pittsburgh Steelers' front office but had no real role in the team's operations after his retirement. He spent about half the year in Pittsburgh with his wife Marianne. They had a son, Chris, who is a teacher in a private high school in Connecticut.[22]

Noll died of natural causes in his suburban Pittsburgh condo on June 13, 2014, having suffered for years from Alzheimer's disease, a heart condition and back problems.[17] Noll's funeral was held on June 17, 2014 at St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh.[23]

Legacy[edit]

Chuck Noll Field at Saint Vincent College. Here, Saint Vincent returns to college football in a game against Gallaudet University.

Noll's legacy includes providing opportunities for African Americans. Under Noll, Joe Gilliam became the league's first African American starting quarterback just a few seasons after the AFL started Marlin Briscoe, and James Harris (Gilliam started ahead of Terry Bradshaw briefly during the 1974 season). In 1975, Franco Harris became the first African American to win the Super Bowl MVP award. During the 1980s, Tony Dungy (who briefly played under Noll in the late 1970s) got his start as an NFL assistant coach, initially as the Steelers' Defensive Backs Coach, and later he became the first African-American Coordinator in the NFL. Noll strongly promoted Dungy as a well-qualified head coaching candidate, but it did not happen for Dungy with the Steelers when Noll retired after the 1991 season. However Dungy did become head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and later became the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl (XLI) with the Indianapolis Colts.

On August 2, 2007, the field at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania was dedicated and renamed Chuck Noll Field in honor of the former coach. For more than 40 years the Steelers have held their summer camp at St. Vincent College, as it was Noll's idea to take the team away from the distractions in the city to prepare for the season each year.

Chuck Noll was honored on October 7, 2007 at Heinz Field during the pre-game ceremonies.

On September 30, 2011 Pittsburgh honored Noll by naming a new street after him. Chuck Noll Way connects North Shore Drive to West General Robinson St. The street runs along Stage AE, on the North Shore of Pittsburgh.[24]

Career record[edit]

Team Year Regular Season Post Season
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
PIT 1969 1 13 0 .071 4th in NFL Central - - - -
PIT 1970 5 9 0 .357 3rd in AFC Central - - - -
PIT 1971 6 8 0 .429 2nd in AFC Central - - - -
PIT 1972 11 3 0 .786 1st in AFC Central 1 1 .500 Lost 17-21 vs. Miami Dolphins
PIT 1973 10 4 0 .714 2nd in AFC Central 0 1 .000 Lost 14-33 @ Oakland Raiders
PIT 1974 10 3 1 .769 1st in AFC Central 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl IX Champions
PIT 1975 12 2 0 .857 1st in AFC Central 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl X Champions
PIT 1976 10 4 0 .714 1st in AFC Central 1 1 .500 Lost 7-24 @ Oakland Raiders
PIT 1977 9 5 0 .643 1st in AFC Central 0 1 .000 Lost 21-34 @ Denver Broncos
PIT 1978 14 2 0 .875 1st in AFC Central 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl XIII Champions
PIT 1979 12 4 0 .750 1st in AFC Central 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl XIV Champions
PIT 1980 9 7 0 .563 3rd in AFC Central - - - -
PIT 1981 8 8 0 .500 2nd in AFC Central - - - -
PIT 1982 6 3 0 .667 2nd in AFC Central 0 1 .000 Lost 28-31 VS. San Diego Chargers
PIT 1983 10 6 0 .625 1st in AFC Central 0 1 .000 Lost 10-38 @ Los Angeles Raiders
PIT 1984 9 7 0 .563 1st in AFC Central 1 1 .500 Lost 28-45 @ Miami Dolphins
PIT 1985 7 9 0 .438 2nd in AFC Central - - - -
PIT 1986 6 10 0 .375 3rd in AFC Central - - - -
PIT 1987 8 7 0 .533 3rd in AFC Central - - - -
PIT 1988 5 11 0 .313 4th in AFC Central - - - -
PIT 1989 9 7 0 .563 2nd in AFC Central 1 1 .500 Lost 23-24 @ Denver Broncos
PIT 1990 9 7 0 .563 3rd in AFC Central - - - -
PIT 1991 7 9 0 .438 2nd in AFC Central - - - -
Total[25] 193 148 1 .566 16 8 .667

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ George Halas, 30 years with the Chicago Bears, Curly Lambeau, 29 years with the Green Bay Packers and Tom Landry, 29 years with the Dallas Cowboys. Sean Lahman, The Pro Football Historical Abstract: A Hardcore Fan's Guide to All-Time Player Rankings (Lyons Press: 2008) ["Lahman"], p. 261.
  2. ^ "Chuck Noll Biography". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved August 24, 2104.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d Gary M. Pomerantz, Their Life's Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers (Simon & Schuster: 2013), p. 62
  4. ^ a b c d Valade, Jodie (December 27, 2008). "The invisible legend: A near recluse in retirement, Chuck Noll brought the Browns-Steelers rivalry to life". Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved August 25, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d Labriola, Bob. "Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, 82". Steelers.com. Retrieved August 23, 2014. 
  6. ^ Bill Livingston & Gregg Brinda, The Great Book of Cleveland Sports Lists (Running Press: 2008), p. 28
  7. ^ a b Rob Ruck, Maggie Jones Patterson & Michael P. Weber, Rooney: A Sporting Life (University of Nebraska Press: 2010) ["Ruck, Patterson & Weber"], p. 169.
  8. ^ a b Mosher, Jerry. "Legendary Steelers coach Chuck Noll dies". Tribune Review. Retrieved August 23, 2014. 
  9. ^ Art Rooney, Jr. & Roy McHugh, Ruanaidh: The Story of Art Rooney and His Clan (Geyer Printing Co. [for Art Rooney, Jr.]: c2008), p. 241.
  10. ^ Price, Elizabeth (June 19, 2014). "Letter to the Editor". Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved August 25, 2014. 
  11. ^ Dan Rooney (as told to Andrew E. Masich, Andrew & David F. Halaas), Dan Rooney: My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL (Da Capo Press: 2007).
  12. ^ a b "Chuck Noll, 1932-2014". Pro Football Hall of Fame. June 14, 2014. Retrieved August 24, 2014. 
  13. ^ Lahman, p. 260.
  14. ^ a b Ed Gruver, The American Football League: A Year-by-Year History, 1960-1969 (McFarland: 1997) ["Gruver"], p. 97.
  15. ^ Gruver, p. 216.
  16. ^ The record has since been broken by the 1977 Atlanta Falcons (129).
  17. ^ a b Dulac, Gerry (June 14, 2014). "Chuck Noll / Coach who led Steelers to 4 Super Bowl titles". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved June 14, 2014. 
  18. ^ Pope, Edwin (January 6, 1985). "The Chief". Beaver County Times. Retrieved August 24, 2014. 
  19. ^ Pasquarelli, Len (January 6, 2007). "Cowher not universally adored in hometown". ESPN.com. Retrieved July 4, 2008. 
  20. ^ Millman, Chad (September 1, 2010). "How Chuck Noll Saved the Steelers". ESPN.com. Retrieved June 14, 2014.  Excerpt from Chad Millman & Shawn Coyne, The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the 70s and the Fight for America's Soul (Gotham: 2010).
  21. ^ America's Game: The Super Bowl Champions. The 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers
  22. ^ Merrill, Elizabeth (January 22, 2009). "The Lessons of Chuck Noll". ESPN.com. Retrieved August 24, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Noll Funeral Arrangements". Tribune Review. June 14, 2014. Retrieved August 24, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Chuck Noll Gets His Way". Pittsburgh.cbslocal.com. September 30, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2014. 
  25. ^ Chuck Noll Record, Statistics, and Category Ranks - Pro-Football-Reference.com

External links[edit]