Former Steelers laud Hall of Fame coach Noll during public viewing
Chuck Noll knew a great deal about many things, Jon Kolb was saying, from wine to the best place to vacation to how to identify a pileated woodpecker.
“Get on a computer and pick any subject, and I can remember Chuck expounding on it,” Kolb, the former Steelers offensive lineman, said of his old coach.
Noll also knew something about football.
“He was a teacher,” said Kolb, expressing a widely held sentiment.
“Chuck made us better because he always had us prepared,” Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann said. “He was more of a teacher than a coach. ... It was about character and dedication and putting the work in. Chuck required that.”
Noll, who led the Steelers to four Super Bowl championships, died at his home in Sewickley on Friday at the age of 82. The funeral is Tuesday. On Sunday, the first open-casket viewing of Noll took place at a Shadyside funeral home. Noll's family and members of the Steelers' extended family — including owner Dan Rooney and president and co-owner Art Rooney II — were joined by friends, ex-players, coaches and fans as they paid their respects.
“His mantra was, ‘success lies in the details,' ” linebacker Andy Russell said. “A lot of that not only focused on football itself, but after we left football, that helped us in our businesses. He was a fantastic mentor.”
Safety Mike Wagner said Noll “made me a better person, and he gave me a tremendous opportunity to play football.”
Another common thread was Noll's stern, low-key manner, how he could drive home a point, praise or criticize, without shouting or other histrionics. Wagner recalled how Noll at halftime once sardonically suggested the Steelers were playing as if they had bet on the other team.
Offensive lineman Gerry “Moon” Mullins confessed that he was “afraid” of Noll, and that Noll could seem larger than life.
But Noll also was “the architect,” Mullins said. “He was the mastermind. He was the teacher. He was the complete package.”
Russell recounted his first meeting with Noll, a rookie coach. Russell, a holdover who made the Pro Bowl the previous season, said Noll told him, “I've been watching game films. I don't like the way you play. You're too aggressive, too out of control.”
Russell made the Pro Bowl six more times and earned two Super Bowl rings.
It wasn't all barbs and arrows. Wagner said Noll, after coaching in the Pro Bowl, told his team he did not see anyone better than his own players.
That was in 1973. By 1974, the Steelers had become a championship team.
“For me and a lot of the players, that kind of started confirming what we believed,” said Wagner, an 11th-round pick with four Super Bowl rings. “There was still work to be done, but it kind of put us over the top.”
Several players believed Noll never received enough credit during the Steelers' dynasty years.
“Now is the time to celebrate everything he has done for us as individuals and for what he did for the Pittsburgh community,” Wagner said.
“He's being recognized right now the way he should have been recognized all along,” Swann said. “What a guy. Leader, teacher, never too high, never too low.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.