Sunday, January 05, 2014

Chuck Noll

Charles Henry Noll was a Paul Brown disciple. He was hired by Mr. Art Rooney after the 1968 NFL season to take over the woeful Pittsburgh Steelers, coming off a 2-11-1 year in which they were coached by Bill Austin.

The first year wasn't great for Noll and the Steelers, as the Black and Gold finished 1-13, with new defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene in place, having drafted him from North Texas State.

Some coaches wouldn't survive that, but it was a different time. Then Noll drafted a quarterback out of Louisiana Tech named Terry Bradshaw in 1970, and they were off and running.

Sort of. They went 5-9 in 1970, and 6-8 in '71. Then came the 11-3 1972 season and a little event that we call "immaculate." Now they were off and running.

When we talk of "greatest coaches," I hear the same names. Lombardi, of course. Landry. Shula. Belichick. Walsh (aka, "The Genius"). Parcells. Halas. Lambeau. And so on.

Hell, that complete gas bag Rick Reilly ranks Noll 9th. He writes:
Four Super Bowl wins in six years. Then why isn't he higher, you ask? Because he did it with only one quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, and one defense, the Steel Curtain. The Rooneys go on winning long after Noll. And once Bradshaw left? Noll went 62-67.
He put Walsh 8th, for essentially the same reason: one quarterback. Oh, yeah. Reilly knows tons about sports.

But read again, will you? Four Super Bowls. FOUR. F-O-U-R.

More than anybody. Now, granted, Lombardi did a ton of championship winning in the pre-Super Bowl years, and also snagged the first two, er, Lombardi Trophies.

Regardless, you often hear about a lot of other coaches. These men had a certain swagger. Shula looked great going 17-0 while wearing the sunglasses in the Miami sun. Landry had the fedora. Lombardi had great quotes. Belichick is an awful quote.

Noll apeared completely, unbelievably bland to the public. He liked wine. He was book smart. He just knew how to coach a football team. Even when he found controversy, calling George Atkinson of the Raiders the "criminal element," the subsequent lawsuit was quickly pushed aside.

Noll won. Won by smart drafting (jeez, that must count for something). Hmmm, Rick, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Franco Harris, and Mike Webster didn't just magically appear, did they?

Noll was also unfazed by color. Start a black quarterback? OK, let's try Joe Gilliam as Bradshaw struggled. Yes, #12 won the job back from Gilliam and went on to win the Super Bowl that year, but he still had the courage to start Gilliam, which was very uncommon at that time.

Believe or not, black QB's in the 70s were rare. Go ahead, name them? James Harris. Gilliam. Doug Williams. Vince Evans. not many others.

He also gave a coaching job to a guy named Tony Dungy. Not bad, eh?

So here, on January 5, we raise a glass of chardonnay, merlot, pinot noir, or whatever to Chuck Noll.

I'm sure he doesn't care if you give him the credit he deserves. He just thinks about those four gleaming Lombardi Trophies and smiles.

And so do I.

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