The Curtain Closes on the Ultimate NFL Coach
~ Amy Lignor
There are lights that burn extremely bright in this world. There are ‘stars’ in every business and industry – in every walk of life, who have touched someone with their love and support. They have touched the world with their grace and charisma, or hard work and everlasting dedication to their job. All of these characteristics make up the ‘star’ we speak about here. A man who will be unimaginably missed by both NFL players and fans.
Of course, where this extraordinarily imaginative and intelligent man is concerned, he could also be called, ‘The Man of Steel.’ He is the man who created the Steel Curtain; he is the man who was respected by Pittsburgh fans and even looked upon with honor by the fans of all other NFL teams, simply because Noll knew exactly what he was doing. He showed the entire world that he could take what (no offense) was a pitiful NFL team and turn it into a dynasty that the NFL will always remember.
Noll did it all: he climbed the proverbial football ladder throughout his lifetime, going from player to assistant coach to one of the best and most successful NFL head coaches in history. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League were truly the lucky ones, though, having Noll coach them from 1969 to 1991. With his wisdom the team garnered four Super Bowl rings – making Chuck the most winningest head coach in NFL history.
He was the 14th head coach of the Steelers, and Noll was most definitely taking on a difficult job, walking into an organization with a team that was not exactly made up of major stars or talent. Lucky for the Steelers that Penn State coach Joe Paterno turned down the offer for the position, and even though Steelers’ owner Art Rooney may have felt angry about that at the time, he credits Don Shula for recommending Noll to him for the position. The dynasty that arose brought Art Rooney more success than he ever expected.
Noll had a way of coaching, but he also had an almost ‘other-worldly’ ability to pick the greatest players to be on the Steelers team. Noll seemed to have an angel on his shoulder talking in his ear at every single draft, telling him the future and showing him which players would become the perfect combination to win it all.
Joe Greene, a defensive tackle we all know, was one of those first round picks made by Noll and became the ultimate core of ‘The Steel Curtain’. A QB was drafted named Terry Bradshaw who, after expanding his game, could not seem to be stopped. He was joined by a man who could run like the wind, Franco Harris, another round one pick by Noll. It is literally unheard of to this day that a coach can select four future Hall of Fame players in their first five picks – no other team has gotten close to that record and, let’s face it, no one ever will.
Lightning did not strike once for Noll – it struck four amazing times. This was a meticulous coach making sure that every step, every position, and every fundamental play that was the foundation of the Steel Curtain would be learned and executed perfectly by his players. But his meticulous on-the-field coaching worked perfectly with his off-the-field management which was far more relaxing. He was confident that if his men believed in themselves and trusted in what he taught them that any game they strived to win would be won.
To this day no team has even come close to a Steel Curtain defense. There are ‘good’ defenses with good and even future Hall of Fame players on the team – but the Steel Curtain was just that: impassable. During the 1970s, the talent that wore the responsibility of the Steel Curtain on their shoulders was unseen in the NFL – it was as if Noll’s angel had made sure that no rival could possibly stand against them, let alone get through them.
No frills, no hype, no begging for media attention like, say, the Jerry Jones’s of the world, Noll was simply a man with a goal who loved his work. In return, his players loved and respected him.
Chuck Noll died at 82. He was an NFL gem that the NFL will have a very difficult time ever finding again.
A true ‘star’…we honor you, Chuck. You will be sorely missed.