| Chuck Noll: Always more than just a coach
Retired Steelers coach takes a varied and impressive list of credentials
into the Pittsburgh Hall of Fame tonight
February 09, 2002
By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer
The file cabinet
in Joe Gordon's office had not worked properly for a long time, always
getting jammed on the metal tracks that protruded from the wall. Chuck
Noll had seen the cabinet many times when he came into Gordon's office
at Three Rivers Stadium, never noticing a problem.
But one Sunday
morning, before a Steelers home game, Noll walked into Gordon's office
and saw the filing cabinet off its tracks.
"He could see this thing was askew," Gordon said. "It wasn't on
So here was Noll,
the only coach in National Football League history to win four Super
Bowls, doing what he does best -- fix something that's broken. He did it
with the Steelers' franchise, shortly after becoming their coach in
1969. Now he was doing it with the public relations man's filing
cabinet. Two hours before kickoff and he's lying on the office floor,
screwdriver in hand, putting the darn thing back together.
That was Chuck
Noll. Part Vince Lombardi, part Bob Vila. "Some writer from New York
comes in my office and Chuck Noll, two hours before the game, is fooling
around with this cabinet," Gordon said. "But he fixed the damn thing."
There is little
Chuck Noll can't do, or can't talk about, or hasn't attempted. He flies
planes, sails boats, gardens, cooks and knows wine so well that nobody
else at his dinner table thinks they will make the night's selection.
Just don't ask him about football. He was never comfortable talking
about the game he coached for 39 years, first as an assistant with the
San Diego Chargers, then with the Baltimore Colts, before coming to the
Steelers. But fixing a filing cabinet? Nothing for a man who had taken a
moribund National Football League franchise and turned it into the most
dominating team of the 1970s.
extremely bright person and can talk about any subject," said Steelers
president Dan Rooney, the man who hired Noll Jan. 27, 1969, to replace
Bill Austin. "He wasn't just tied down to football. There was never a
question about him burning out because he had another life. There was
more to him than just football."
There are many
facets, many dimensions, to Charles Henry Noll, and they go beyond the
specter of what he accomplished in 23 seasons as the most successful
coach in Steelers history. Sure, he could win Super Bowls -- four of
them in a six-year span of the 1970s -- and, sure, could he teach. He
once said if he wasn't a football coach he would have been a history
teacher. But he was indeed a teacher, a professor, and his classroom was
the football field. He gave his players the "how to" -- his words for
teaching them the way to block, the way to pull, the way to trap, the
way to run. And they gave him a dynasty. But Noll was so much more than
that, and only now are the people for whom he lends his time and service
-- Pittsburgh Vision Services and the University of Dayton, his alma
mater -- discovering what those close to him knew for years: Chuck Noll
is one of the most fascinating figures in sports history. "A renaissance
man," said longtime Steelers radio announcer Myron Cope. "I used to tell
the players that professional football is a part-time profession," Noll
said. "I used to tell them it gets you ready for your life's work. Well,
after 39 years in the NFL, I'm in my life's work, and it's called
Tonight, in an
honor long overdue, Noll will be inducted into the Pittsburgh Hall of
Fame as part of the ceremonies surrounding the Dapper Dan Dinner at the
Hilton Hotel and Towers, Downtown. There has never been another coach
like him in Pittsburgh, not on the field, not off. Other franchises have
now won more Super Bowls than the Steelers. But no coach has ever been
able to match Noll's feat of winning four Super Bowls. For that, he was
inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, two years after he
"He was, by far,
the most focused person I've seen," said Gordon, who remains one of
Noll's closest friends. "Now, since he's been off for 10 years, he has
an appreciation for how the rest of the world functions.
"There were two
people -- one was Chuck Noll, the coach; and one was Chuck Noll, the
person. When you're with him in a non-football environment, he's a
charming individual, a great conversationalist on a variety of topics.
And a very caring person. That never came out when he was coaching, but
when players had problems off the field he was always very concerned in
a very quiet manner. He just never made a big show of it."
Noll bought the
first house he looked at in Upper St. Clair 33 years ago and sold it
shortly after he retired in 1991. But he and his wife, Marianne, still
own a condo in Sewickley, splitting time between there and their home in
Williamsburg, Va., because they love the people here so much.
very friendly," Noll said. "I've been from coast to coast, and if you're
family hasn't been in that area for a couple decades, the people weren't
quite as friendly. It wasn't that way in Pittsburgh. We were received
with open arms."
And yet, despite
his feelings for the people, most of Pittsburgh, even his players,
always viewed Noll as cold, distant, an enigma. He shunned the
limelight, almost never making a public appearance and doing only one
commercial in all his years in Pittsburgh. That was for a good friend,
Merle Gilliand of Pittsburgh National Bank, and all it amounted to was
Noll appearing on a billboard, wearing a golf shirt. Noll couldn't wait
until the billboard promotion was over.
After Super Bowl
X, Nestle's called with an offer: $15,000 for using Noll's picture on
one of their chocolate products. That's it. No appearances. No
commercial shoots. No speeches. Noll didn't even have to leave the
office. Just his picture -- for $15,000.
"See if they'll
use one of my assistants."
And that was
"He never made a decision based on money," Gordon said. "He was very
comfortable and satisfied with being a football coach. And he was very
comfortable with his compensation. And that wasn't him. Obviously, he
was a very private person at that time."
Noll keeps busy
with what he calls his life's work, frequently making the five-hour
drive between Williamsburg and Sewickley to help with fund-raising for
Pittsburgh Vision Services. Ironically, he's probably more visible in
Western Pennsylvania now than when he was winning 209 games and nine AFC
Central titles with the Steelers. Noll also is a member of the board of
trustees at Dayton and helps raise money for the school with speeches
and charity appearances.
But he stills
finds time for his other passions. The other day, when a reporter
called, Noll was cooking dinner -- at 11 a.m. He has never looked back
on the profession he left 10 years ago.
"I've always said
the three people I saw look the best three to four months after they
left their position was President Ford, Pete Rozelle and Chuck Noll,"
Rooney said. "They were really a different person -- relaxed, talkative,
enjoying life. Chuck looks like he is relaxed and comfortable."
Noll and his wife
also never miss a chance to visit their son, Chris, and two
grandchildren near Hartford, Conn. Like his dad, Chris is a teacher
(computer art, history,English) and coach (basketball, soccer) at a
private girls' school in Farmington, Conn.
Noll's degree was
in secondary education. He also went to law school for two years before
beginning his coaching career as an assistant with the Chargers. "I
tried to look around to see what I wanted to do," Noll said. "Football
was something I knew the most about. So I called [Chargers coach] Sid
Gillman and, fortunately, he hired me."
Don't be fooled.
Noll knows a
little something about a lot of things.
the time Noll came to his house in Upper St. Clair to tape the pregame
radio show. Cope had a radio studio in his basement, and Noll lived only
a couple blocks away. A couple of days earlier, Noll had recommended a
stereo system Cope was seeking to purchase. When Noll walked in the
door, "He right away said, 'How's the stereo?' " Cope said. "I told him
I haven't been able to hook it up. Well, out came the spectacles from
the pocket and for 20 minutes he sets up the stereo. From them on, I
called him my handyman."
That was Chuck
Bowl-winning coach. Fascinating.