Friday, April 20, 2018
Sports

A champ in NFL and life

Chuck Noll was a no-nonsense coach, and his Steelers followed his lead to win four Super Bowls.

Mr. Noll, who died Friday of natural causes at 82 at his home in Sewickley, Pa. (outside Pittsburgh), wasn't an entertainer nor a charmer when it came to football. He was a winner, the only man to coach four Super Bowl champions, building a dynasty 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."

Mr. Noll was a sharp strategist, brilliant evaluator of personnel and strong motivator.

"He was the glue," said former Steelers linebacker Jack Ham, a Hall of Famer. "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."

While Mr. Noll's success — 209-156-1 over 23 seasons — defined him professionally, football did not dominate his existence. He insisted those around him have hobbies and enjoy life away from the field.

Mr. Noll was a licensed pilot who flew himself and assistants on scouting trips. He was a wine connoisseur and enjoyed cooking. He had a passion for jazz.

When one of his players, future Bucs coach Tony Dungy, was dating his future wife, Noll gave him a recipe to cook for dinner that Dungy says, "must have worked."

Dungy remembers a scouting trip to New Orleans with Mr. Noll during which they hit many restaurants and jazz spots. Dungy believed he was about to be elevated to defensive coordinator. But they were so busy in the Big Easy, he never asked if he got the job.

Dungy finally found out he did when they returned home.

"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."

Mr. Noll retired 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 former defensive tackle Joe Greene, a Steelers Hall of Famer. "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."

Owned by the Rooneys since joining the NFL in 1933, the Steelers are known for their family-like atmosphere. Mr. 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.

"I think he ranks with (George) Halas and (Vince) Lombardi," Steelers owner Dan Rooney said.

"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."

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