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Five Years Later, Remembering Chuck Noll



Five years ago, on June 13, 2014, the Steelers Nation lost its emperor, as longtime head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Chuck Noll passed away at the age of 82.

Here are some reflections of the four-time Super Bowl champion coach, as collected in interviews by our Ron Lippock.

Mike Collier: “We had the best preparer in the game in Chuck Noll. He was the best at making us ready to win a championship. He never got enough credit. You always hear people talking about Belichick and other guys as the greatest coaches. You rarely hear about Noll. That upsets me greatly. He was one of the greatest coaches ever in that timeframe.”

Bob Leahy: “Noll and I formed a good, solid relationship. Noll was brilliant. He won four Super Bowls and to my knowledge never won the NFL Coach of the Year. That blows my mind. He wanted it all for the players – he never took endorsements. He didn’t want the limelight. When I look back on my appreciation for coaching, I look back to Chuck Noll.”

Dwight Stone: “My first year as a Steelers I observed Coach Noll and Mrs. Noll walked out the front door of Three River Stadium after a home regular season game. The crowd of fans circle them like we just won the Super Bowl. Coach asked  the huge crowd of fans to step back (in a soft voice). Coach walked his wife to the car and opened the door for her. She got in the car and he closed the door and went to the driver’s and opened his door. He started the car and turned on the A/C for his wife to be comfortable. He walked back over to the crazy but the WORLD’S BEST FANS and signed every autograph and smiled for pictures. … I knew then what was expected of me as a Steelers on and off the field.”

Garry Howe: “Chuck Noll was all about helping where you are needed.”

Tyronne Stowe: “Chuck Noll took a chance on me, I had made a big mistake, and he and the coaching staff gave me a second chance. He said, “You can’t have enough tough people on your team.”  I never failed, his trust again. Tough people make it through tough times, to come out even tougher.”

Ray Snell: “The things I learned from Chuck Noll carried me through. His hard work ethic and attitude – stick-to-itiveness. “The low man always wins.” he used to say. I took that
 attitude from him and it affected me greatly. I always had the attitude – you need the aptitude and the drive. When I was traded from Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh, I learned about that blue-collar, hard-work mentality. That was from Chuck Noll and I leaned on that when I raised my children and at work.”

Dick Capp: “What I respected most regarding Noll was that he played the best players. Even though I got cut.”

Ernie Holmes: “Remember, football is all about the battle of the hitting as Chuck Noll would so artfully often say.”

Dick Shiner: “Chuck Noll was the best defensive coach in the NFL. The way Chuck played, it was about positioning. And I applied that knowledge as well to the kids here at Bishop McDevitt – to the offense and defense. The way he coached and thought – in one year I learned a lot from him and applied it here.”

Larry Brown: “Talking to some of the veterans, they told me Chuck told the team in his first season as a coach that he knew why the team wasn’t very good – it was because the players weren’t very good. He put them all on notice. That was his philosophy – you had to step up your game or he’d find someone to compete with you. It was all about getting the best players on the squad – he didn’t care where those guys came from.”

Sydney Thornton: “Under Chuck Noll’s philosophy, if you are a good football player, there’s a job for you. He didn’t discriminate when it came to football players. he only had hangups about attitudes and the way you carried yourself. But if you were a football player you were Chuck’s man.”

Terry O’Shea: “We got killed our first two games. I thought about this afterwards. There was calm around the coaching staff – that was Noll. None of the vets got up and said what are we doing! Coach Noll would tell us at times that we were on the team, but not forever (laughing).”

Merril Hoge: “Chuck Noll was a great counselor on this as well. He told all of us that when we work with charities, before we associate our name with them, to make sure it’s credible and done right. Noll had great council there.”

Joe Gordon: “Noll knew we couldn’t be successful at Pitt Stadium. One of the main reasons he accepted the job was because he knew we were moving in ’70. From the standpoint of football operations, his direction of building on a long-term basis through the draft was very important. Before Noll, Buddy Parker traded draft choices for players looking for the get-good quick approach. But that didn’t work. The operative word with Coach Noll was patience and all bought into that. The combination of Noll having ultimate authority and the scouting department headed by Art Rooney Jr. made for a more professional team. The relationship between Noll and the scouting department – being on the same page was important. Character was a big factor – a major consideration for the draft. Noll also was emphatic that they drafted intelligent players. Both were major motivations for him – he wanted good and intelligent athletes with good character. There were three or four players left from the Parker team after the second season under Noll. The rest were inferior, Noll felt – they couldn’t win with them. He built through the draft. Gradually, you could see Art Rooney Sr. feeling confident – knowing Chuck never lost the team even when they lost. They all bought in to the mission.”

Delton Hall: “Coach Noll always said not to burn the candle at both ends. I should have listened to him.”

John Hilton: “We lived in a Catholic dorm in St. Vincent’s and one night, we had a big water fight. I opened my door and Coach Noll said to get out quick – he was covered in foam. Joe Greene was running around squirting everyone with the fire extinguisher!”

Ralph Berlin: ” Chuck kept to himself. It was hard for me to talk to him then. We talked more after we both retired then we did when we were in Pittsburgh. Once  a week we’d meet with the doctor and talked about who was hurt and who could play. But that was about it…”

Dick Haley: “Chuck was an undersized offensive guard in Cleveland. I think that influenced how he approached things. He never worried about size – he just looked for how good the player was.”

Pete Rostosky: “There were so many lessons I learned from Chuck Noll. The most important one that stuck with me the most was loyalty… He would always take a player that was loyal to him and the system over others that perhaps had more athletic ability and skill. Skills can always be taught, but loyalty is an issue that comes from within the heart of a young man.”

Hardy Nickerson: “I find myself regurgitating so much from what Coach Noll said. The fundamentals…how to tackle… same foot and shoulder… they fly off my tongue now and I learned them as a rookie.”

Frank Lambert: “I remember visiting with Mr. Rooney in the 1970s and he told me how he wished that I could have played for Chuck Noll.  He said that Noll had built an outstanding team primarily through the draft and that he had instilled a winning expectation.”

Lorenzo Freeman: “Coach Noll was another guy that stated things the way they were. We knew what to expect with him too and that makes you want to play harder. They all helped me to find my strengths.”

Reggie Harrison:” Chuck was a business man. In St. Louis, Coryell would come in to the locker room kicking and yelling. I thought that was the way the NFL was. Then I got to Pittsburgh and was amazed.”

Jon Kolb: ”In that same way, we practiced football. Tunch, Craig… in  practice every day we were also tested. We became better athletes because of it. Better balance, technique… that was the brilliance of Chuck Noll. He didn’t leave any of that out – we were tested every day. The guys were used to a looser system. Noll was a technician and a tactician. He believed in teaching players what to do and how to do it. 90% of the teams now just teach the first part. Teams don’t spend time on technique. That was what Chuck did. Toward the end Chuck embraced strength and conditioning. That was the third thing – you have to be capable of doing it. That became a bigger part of it.”

Gary Dunn: “Noll was a disciplinarian too. He took no duff from anyone. You knew where you stood with him. If you did your job and did it well, you stayed.”

Gary Jones: “I was there for three years and Chuck was like an NFL God to me. I was a Cowboys fan and the Steelers always beat us. He was on another level and I was afraid to talk to him. He would let me know when I did something wrong – not in a rude way. He’d just get your attention.”

Tom Beasley: “Chuck had a knack for blending personnel. You need a Shell and a Lambert and a Ham. Chuck had the intuitive knack for picking out unique individuals that were different but that meshed well and were great leaders.”

Mike Kruczek: “Obviously Chuck Noll had a big impact on my desire to get into coaching. Watching him prepare the team, stressing the same key factors week in and week out…it was always about fundamentals with Chuck. Blocking and Tackling. He was actually the quarterback coach also went I played there. Tom Moore has been a great mentor to me over the past twenty years too.”

Ed Bradley: “Regarding Coach Noll I had little or no knowledge about him. To illustrate that, when I went up for rookie orientation he came up and introduced himself and I said “Hey Chuck nice to meet ya!” I wasn’t really sure who he was. Well, later on when we had out first group meeting and he took the podium… I slid down in my seat and said to myself “Damn, way to go Ed. He’s the head coach. Chuck Noll!”

J.T. Thomas: “Chuck Noll said I was the missing piece – that they needed a cornerback to match up with Mel and that the secondary was the biggest weakness of the team at the time. Chuck had liberal ideas – he had no hangups. The system was bigger than him so he worked the system as best he could. He could communicate with any guy on the team. With me, he’d just give me a nod or shake his head. With Greene, he’d hold longer conversations and with Bradshaw he’d give him a hug to help his confidence. What he gave most was value beyond football. Some guys got it. He talked about your life and purpose – your life’s work. Football was a stepping stone – he always had you look beyond the game.”

Ted Petersen“His stress of the fundamentals and mental toughness. We were always fundamentally better prepared than our opponents. He was a great teacher and expected that his assistant coaches were as well. That allowed us to impose our will on other teams to get it done. Those lessons resound in my mind still as I look back.”

Lee Calland: “The guy that did the most to make me feel at home was Noll. I was a wide-eyed rookie in Minnesota. I was all about money then. In Pittsburgh it was about more. I was about the person, It’s still that way today. It’s more than dollars and cents. It’s family – they keep up with you later in life.”

Craig Colquitt: “Chuck Noll and Dick Haley (Combine Scout) talked to me like I was punting on a golf green. I knew I had the talent. They taught me pro football is show business and that preparation (practice) will make it seem second nature. Noll was a perfectionist. He did not want us in any drill unprepared. A mistake to Noll was wasted time. I did not lift weights. I ran a lot, everyday. My preparation theory in my time was natural flexibility and endurance. I weighed 183 pounds. Today my sons (Chiefs and Broncos) both weigh over 210 pounds, with endurance and flexibility.”

Keith Willis: “Chuck Noll always taught us to keep it simple and I really believe in that.”

Jerrol Williams:” I enjoyed playing for Coach Noll. I liked his no-nonsense approach. You had a job to do and you do it if you are  a professional. If he had to tell you what to do you didn’t need to be there. I had no clue he was leaving. He wasn’t a big talker… One thing I admired and learned from him was how he knew about every aspect of the game. Every position. We didn’t need a position coach – he knew it all. He has a subtle approach – subtle suggestions – he didn’t blast you in front of the team, which I liked. He was just really impressive. I never had a coach like him.”

Dan Radakovich: “Noll was worse than me! He loved new ideas. problem was, he wanted to take the new ideas and make a whole new offense out of them every time. I just wanted to make adjustments – he wanted to make everything a big deal.”

Gordon Gravelle: “Coach Noll was the best head coach I ever had the privilege to play under and he helped mentor me, even after practices he would work with me on my techniques.”

Randy Grossman: “The Steelers, by luck, were the best team I could have possibly signed with because of Chuck Noll. Perhaps because Chuck was an undersized offensive guard, he didn’t care what a player looked like, he was only concerned with a player’s ability to execute.  Game plans were designed to take advantage of opponent’s weaknesses not so
 much our strengths. It was a given that you could execute what the coaches wanted done. I never saw my size as a disadvantage in getting done what the assignment was. If I couldn’t do what they wanted done I wouldn’t have made Chuck’s team.”

Ben McGee: “He communicated  with the players – that was the big thing. The other coaches couldn’t communicate with the players.”

Ray Pinney: “Chuck Noll, who I thought was a great coach, always said in our team meetings when a player was having performance issues and not playing well he said “it might be time to get into your life’s work” meaning that your playing career might be over with the Steelers or the NFL if your on-the-field playing performance didn’t improve. I really took his comments to heart and realized I would have to do something else when my playing days ended, so I had post-football plans lined up. It was still difficult leaving the game. I especially missed all of the camaraderie of the guys and excitement of game day.”

John Brown: “Chuck Noll came and put order to the team. Chuck did not tolerate a lack of discipline. He actually recruited me in college when he was a coach in Sand Diego.”

Bruce Van Dyke: “The biggest thing Chuck Noll did was to bring a highly intellectual perspective to the game. He knew all the fundamentals about every position. No other coach I played  for knew that. At some point throughout the year he’d pull us aside and teach us about the fundamentals and techniques -what we were doing wrong…foot positions and things like that.”

Lee Rowser: “Noll played the best people and let them be themselves. The Steelers were the first team to go without team blazers. All the other teams’ players had to wear team blazers, but Noll let the team express itself as they wanted. That showed up in play — they let athletes be athletes. They didn’t let the system confine you.”

L.C. Greenwood: “Chuck was also on the same level. He didn’t know about most of the other guys either. His first year he was just trying to find football players. He looked beyond the clouds to find me (laughing).”

Hubie Bryant: “Chuck wasn’t a very warm person. He was disciplined though and fair. He wasn’t a guy you could get to know – he was a solid individual you could trust. If you performed, you played.”

Kent Nix: “When Coach Noll came in…he took over the offense, defense and special teams.  He was more of a teacher of the game, not highly excitable and installed a new offense. The offense was totally new to me as we had been running the Green Bay Packer offensive scheme under Bill Austin. Compared to the former one… this had twice as many plays and nuances than Coach Austin had used.”

Terry Hanratty: “But being 1-13 my rookie year didn’t bother me. I was Noll’s second ever pick – Chuck had a plan. He doesn’t get enough credit. Chuck had final say. His drafting was the key. There were seventeen rounds then – and he got really good players in the late rounds – ones that were great players. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for drafting.  He had twenty-two losses his first two seasons – but the team now had structure. He left that structure in place for Cowher then Tomlin. Now those guys are just using the structure Noll put in place.”

Warren Bankston: “Coach Noll was dedicated, focused and committed to building a winner.  We worked hard, and many of the older players were cut to make room for about 12-14 rookies (Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, etc.)  He ran a tight ship and was not extremely approachable, but if you could play, you were there for the long haul.
 I later found out that he was proficient in Spanish, could fly an airplane, was an expert in wines, cooking, knew electronics fairly well, and more.  He was well-rounded in many matters.  When we went 1-13 that first year, we invented ways to lose games.  It was pathetic, but Chuck never waivered.  He was in a rebuilding mode, and he stuck to it.  The remaining three years after 1969, we went 5-9, 6-8, and then 11-3, playing Miami in the AFC Championship game.  Unfortunately, we were their 16th victim in their famous 17-0 season.  The rest is history.  Four Super Bowls under Chuck’s leadership in twenty-three seasons.  I have so much respect for him, and I hope he is doing well.  One of the coaches, Lou Riecke, our strength coach at Pittsburgh, recently told me that Chuck’s health was not good.  I send my best wishes to him via this interview.”

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