Goodbye, Chuck

Chuck Noll: Best. Coach. Ever (Getty Images)

Chuck Noll: Best. Coach. Ever (Getty Images)

Last Friday, we lost one of NFL football’s greatest coaches: Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll. He passed away late Friday of natural causes at the age of 82. And as a die-hard Steelers fan, I can tell you that he will be missed… and not just by other Steelers’ fans, but by fans of sports in general.

Noll played the game in the 1950s as part of the Cleveland Browns—ironically one of the Steelers’ main division rivals—as a linebacker and guard. Following his playing career, he served as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Chargers and then as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Colts in 1968. That year, the Colts gave up only 144 points, a sign of the defensive glory to come with the Steel Curtain.

Baltimore head coach Don Shula—who would later lead the Miami Dolphins to two Super Bowl victories—recommended Noll for the lead coaching job in Pittsburgh, a city that hadn’t enjoyed much success in nearly 40 years. And sadly, they wouldn’t taste success during Noll’s first year, when the team posted a pitiful record of only one win and 13 losses.

Fortunately, this would not become a habit.

By 1972—and thanks to some savvy draft picks and other roster adjustments—the Steelers’ luck changed completely as Noll led them to their first division title in the AFC Central. Hall of Fame players like Terry Bradshaw, “Mean Joe” Greene, Jack Ham, Mike Webster, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris helped Noll and the Steel Curtain achieve eight more such titles, as well as four Super Bowl victories. And by the time his career ended in 1991, Noll had 209 wins, 156 losses and 1 tie under his belt.

He also laid the foundation for one of the NFL’s most successful franchises. To date, the Steelers have six Super Bowl wins, more than any other team in history. And there’s plenty of time to add more… believe me.

Steelers’ Hall of Famers (Steel City Artist)

News of Noll’s death hit Steelers’ fans like me pretty hard, but no one felt it more than his former players. Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw—who often clashed with Noll both on and off the field—said he was “kind of like a father from whom you want approval [but] don’t quite get it.” He added that he was “proud to have played for him” and that “it was a great honor.”

Legendary defensive tackle “Mean Joe” Greene had this to say about his former coach, with whom he spent his entire professional career: “Chuck was just the ultimate leader. He had truth and belief in what he was saying, and over time all of those things he said were validated, the things about winning football games and being a solid citizen.”

And that, to me, was Noll’s greatest achievement: producing players who not only performed on the field, but also led by example in their daily lives. Unlike some of today’s prima donnas—who seem to care more about their individual performances and large paychecks—Noll instilled a strong sense of teamwork and unity in his players, who returned the favor by bringing the Lombardi trophy back to the Steel City not once, but four times.

In other words, he was the ultimate football coach. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier to have watched Chuck Noll in action. I even had an opportunity to meet him and some of his greatest players when I visited the Steelers’ training camp as a child, so I can say this: I will always be a Steelers fan. And I have Chuck to thank for bringing me and so many others into the fold.

We will miss you, Chuck. Rest easy and I promise the Steelers and their fans will keep your dream alive. Always.

Posted on June 18, 2014, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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