When I heard the news early Saturday morning that the former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll had passed away in Sewickley Friday evening, it brought back a flood of memories. He was 82. Noll had been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
Noll was the Steelers coach from 1969 to 1991. He directed the team to four Super Bowl titles within a six-year span. In a touch of irony, the Steelers sent out a release last week detailing some of the events they are planning for this season, celebrating the 40th anniversary of their first Vince Lombardi trophy.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Noll twice at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This was after he had retired from coaching and was enjoying the "good life" with his wife and constant companion Marianne.
Noll was a delightful interview, willing to talk about football, but also wiling to talk about wines, flying and boating. The only problem with this was that what I know about wine, flying and boating couldn't fill the proverbial thimble. His wife told me that he loved to know how things worked and enjoyed taking home appliances apart and putting them back together again.
Noll truly loved being on a boat. For many years, he kept a boat in Virginia, before eventually moving on to Florida. As the former coach aged and was less mobile, the Nolls spent more and more time in Florida. Noll told me how proud he was to have been a graduate of Cleveland Benedictine and then returned to be a "messenger guard" under the tutelage of the legendary Paul Brown. While he may not have particularly liked being a messenger guard, he noted that he had learned a great deal from Brown. After his playing career ended, he worked as an assistant under Sid Gillman (San Diego Chargers) and Don Shula (Baltimore Colts). Noll felt that he was ready to be a head coach when he was hired by the Steelers in 1969. Even though his first Steelers' team went a dismal 1-13, five years later, the Black & Gold were Super Bowl champions, and became "The Team of the 70s."
As his health declined in recent years, he was forced to walk with two canes. The dreaded Alzheimer's disease limited his contact with former players, many of whom realized after their playing careers had ended, how Noll had shaped them and enabled them to be successful in their "Life's Work".
I remember former Youngstown State University and Steelers quarterback Cliff Stoudt telling me a few years ago at a golf outing what an effect Noll had on him. Stoudt said that if he only had a day or two to live, he would want to spend part of that time with Noll.
While he was inundated with requests to be the spokeman for various companies, he generally declined those opportunties to make extra money. He just didn't feel comfortable in that atmosphere. He was a teacher and his subjects were football and life; especially life after football.
Many times Noll told players that their tenure as a player, or at least as a Steeler, was over, by telling them it was time to get on with "Their Life's Work." It appears that Noll's "Life's Work" is done down here on earth and Steeler fans are so lucky that the Rooneys hired "Chuck Who?" in 1969.
He may have been born and raised and played in Cleveland, but Noll was definitely a "Pittsburgh Guy."