September 12, 2014
"Leading Off," by Dan Pompeii, SportsonEarth.com
For a time in the 1960s, Chuck Noll was the San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator and John Madden was the San Diego State defensive coordinator. They frequently would get together to play handball or racquetball or to have a bite to eat. And talk football.
Madden was teaching graduate classes on football during this period. Noll was more than happy to be his guest lecturer from time to time. "He loved that," Madden says. "That was Chuck Noll - in a classroom, talking to coaches and teaching. I learned a lot about him and a lot from him then. That's where I learned pro defense, from Chuck Noll."
We forever will call him a coach, but Noll, who died last week at 82, saw himself as something else. When Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman asked Noll in 1980 how he wanted to be remembered, Noll said he wanted to be thought of as a teacher. "A person who could adapt to a world of constant change," Noll said. ...
Four Super Bowl victories, the most of any coach in history, merely were a byproduct of teaching well. Noll, who studied education at the University of Dayton, preached attention to details and consistency. He was very hands- on, even working with players one-on-one long after most of them had trotted off the practice field.
Madden recalls Noll the coach as a deep thinker and a fundamentalist. "That's what the Steelers were all about," Madden said. "Once they had the fundamentals down, they didn't make mistakes, and then they could play aggressively. Sometimes, if you ever get an old film, just watch the footwork of Jack Ham. He was a guy I used to study all the time because he was never out of balance. His feet were always in a perfect position no matter how he moved. Those were the things that were important to Chuck." ...
L: Don Shula and Chuck Noll; R: Noll and Terry Bradshaw
Noll preferred to hire assistant coaches from colleges, because he thought they usually had better teaching skills than most coaches who had been in the NFL. His appreciation of teaching undoubtedly was rooted in the fact that he had great teachers. As a guard and linebacker on the Cleveland Browns, he played for Paul Brown, who wrote the first playbook in history. He coached under Sid Gillman, the father of the modern passing game. And he was an assistant for Don Shula, the winningest coach ever. Noll would follow each of them into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Madden said Noll was a lot like Brown in that he was a teacher first, one who analyzed the game differently than most. Noll had his own style, however. He was not a yeller or babysitter. He gave his players freedom and kept rules to a minimum. He thought being rested and mentally alert was more important than putting in more time than the opposing coach.
He was not one of those coaches who was unaware of the world beyond the goal posts. In fact, Noll could hold his own in a conversation about fine wine - while he was preparing dinner. He could pilot a plane, cultivate roses, sail a boat and scuba dive. He enjoyed listening to jazz and traveling, and he could talk politics or philosophy with intelligence and perspective.
Noll was far from a warm-and-fuzzy new-age player's coach, though. He made Terry Bradshaw a person project and broke him down over time with tough love. Some perceived Noll as aloof and distant. He was known for a menacing glare that could hit his players harder than any linebacker.
"In my time I didn't see him hug a player ... but he still loved his players," Steelers great Joe Greene said ... "But I watched him, and I saw him show his appreciation for his players and for his team in a very quiet and subtle way." ...