Today the football world has awoken to the sad news of the passing of the former legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll. Noll coached the Steelers for over 20 years, including their infamous and franchise-defining decade of the 1970s when the team won four Super Bowls and it’s defense, which was Noll’s foundation and creation, forever won the nickname of the Steel Curtain.
Like all great team sports across the world, each has a figure who defines them. A person and a name that is memorable to everyone with any knowledge of that game. Manchester United have Sir Alex Ferguson. The Chicago Bulls have Michael Jordan. Both Giants teams had Willie Mays. The Steelers have Chuck Noll. With Noll and the Steelers it’s about more than just the Lombardi Trophies on display at Heinz Field or the record number of wins he presided over as head coach; it’s about recognising how he built that dynasty from the ground up. Noll inherited a failing Steelers team that in the modern era would be on par with their current AFC North rivals the Cleveland Browns. Noll was the brains, the heart and the soul of the Steelers for over two decades. There was no need for a general manager whilst Noll was in town because the best laid plans were entirely his and they started the moment he arrived in the building. Just a day after he was appointed in 1969, the NFL Draft took place and the Steelers selected defensive tackle Joe Greene. He would go on to have a hugely successful and highly memorable Hall of Fame career at the Three Rivers stadium and was one of nine Hall of Famers drafted in the Noll era and who learned and played their game under the head coach.
Noll’s coaching is defining of the Steelers as a football team, on both sides of the football. Their physical, hard-hitting, shutdown defense won it’s name and reputation due to his tutelage. On the offense also, arguably their greatest running back of all time, Franco Harris, was another Noll selection, as was quarterback Terry Bradshaw who’s play and leadership can so often be understated in such an overwhelming period of success for the Steelers. Noll was a coach who built his game entirely on technique. He believed in his players and their ability and he would find ways to make them work, no matter how naturally talented they actually were. He was not a man’s man in the sense of how masculine the game has become today, and he certainly wasn’t camera-friendly. In fact it’s widely appreciated that he wasn’t even much of a best friend to his players, but he was a believer in them and they were most certainly a believer in him. To the very definition of the word he coached them perfectly and in the process created one of the most perfect eras in football history.
Myron Cope, the Steelers radio broadcaster for 35 years and a man and Steelers fan who has played more than one key part in their history, nicknamed him the ‘Emperor Chaz’ with his famous quote. The definition of emperor is the ruler of an empire. Chuck Noll wasn’t just the ruler of an empire, he was the founder, the builder and the believer of one and that will never be forgotten.