Chuck Noll circa 1975
Football is religion in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are more than a just team or a jersey to the city of Pittsburgh; they are part of our identity and culture, and many Pittsburghers view them as a worthy representative of themselves and their beloved city by having the national perception of a tough, blue collar, no-nonsense type of team. The relationship between the community and the Steelers is unique, almost family-like.
Over the weekend, Steeler Nation lost a dear member of their family as former head coach Charles Henry “Chuck” Noll passed away at the age of 82. Chuck Noll’s legacy is immortal in the hearts of Pittsburgh natives; he was a key component in not only the legendary Steelers’ dynasty of the 1970’s but influenced the overall strategy and approach to how the Steelers conduct themselves as an organization. Prior to Noll being hired by the Steelers in 1969, the franchise had produced only eight winning seasons and zero championships since being founded in 1933. In the 44 years after Noll’s hiring, the Steelers have managed to produce 31 winning seasons and six championships.
In 1968, Dan Rooney the eldest son of Steelers’ owner Art Rooney was given the assignment of attempting to turn the abysmal Pittsburgh Steelers franchise in to a competitive and respectable organization. His first mission was finding a new head coach and philosophy. After failed attempts to persuade Penn State’s well-respected coach Joe Paterno to join the Steelers, he identified a candidate named Chuck Noll, an assistant with the Baltimore Colts. On January 27th, 1969, the Pittsburgh Steelers officially named Chuck Noll as their head coach. Dan Rooney ultimately selected Chuck Noll to be the Steelers’ newest head coach because they shared a similar philosophy and desire to utilize the draft to acquire players they could teach to become quality football players; an approach which wasn’t emphasized in previous years as the franchise had a tendency to trade away their draft choices. Noll and Rooney became heavily engaged with the scouting department and were committed to the simple philosophy of selecting the best player available with their picks in the draft regardless of position, which ultimately became a keystone of how the Steelers operate. The Steelers held the number four pick in the 1969 NFL draft and they selected a defensive tackle by the name of Joe Greene. During Noll’s first season as the Steelers head coach, the team only managed to win one game, but Noll and Rooney remained focused on retaining their draft picks and using them to build their roster.
In 1974, Chuck Noll’s coaching style and eye for talent began to pay dividends for the Steelers. His 1974 draft class went down as the unquestioned greatest in NFL history; it included four Hall of Fame players and Pittsburgh icons Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster. The 1974 season also marked a turning point in franchise history; the Steelers reached the AFC Championship game which featured the infamous “Immaculate Reception” versus the John Madden-coached Oakland Raiders, sending the Steelers to their first championship appearance in the franchise’s history. The Steelers ultimately won Super Bowl IX, marking a new era in Steelers football.
Chuck Noll went on to win three more Super Bowls in a period of five seasons, reaching a total of four, a feat which remains unmatched by any other coach in NFL history. More importantly, he restored pride in the city of Pittsburgh which was currently suffering from the rapid decline of the steel industry. Chuck Noll’s success in the 1970’s provided a sense of hope to a city in transition and brought joy to those who desperately needed it. In addition, his teams played a tough, gritty, and physically intimidating brand of football which represented the hard-nosed, no-nonsense, blue-collar environment in the city of Pittsburgh and represented the people who lived their accurately.
Chuck Noll coached the Steelers for a total of 23 years, and was inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. During his career as the Pittsburgh Steelers coach, he led the team to 12 playoff appearances, nine division titles, and four championships.
There is a lot to admire about Chuck Noll; not only was he extremely successful during his coaching career, but he showed enormous humility throughout his life. He was a man of integrity and faith – he stressed that the success of his players will be in the upbringing of their children – and served as a role model to many of his players and fans. Coach Noll was a very private man, a man of a few words, and preferred to stay out of the spotlight to allow his players to receive the accolades rather than himself. He meant a great deal to the city of Pittsburgh, the Steelers organization, and the NFL as a whole. It’s important for all fans of all teams young and old to understand the impact he had and the legacy he left behind. Rest in Peace, Chuck, and thank you for the everlasting impression you left on the Steelers, Pittsburgh, and The National Football League.
“The thrill isn’t in the winning, it’s in the doing.” – Chuck Noll
-Submitted by DavidDeCastrosGut