Steelers Hall of Fame coach Noll remembered as 'standard-setter'
Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer paused, rested a hand on Chuck Noll's casket and paid final respects to the man who made the Pittsburgh Steelers what they never were before he arrived.
As Noll was laid to rest Tuesday, the players who won those four Super Bowl trophies in the 1970s said it mattered not that Noll never won the NFL Coach of the Year award. Or that he isn't always mentioned with coaching greats Vince Lombardi, George Halas and Don Shula.
To them, the legacy Noll left behind lives today not only with the Steelers but Pittsburgh, too.
As Bishop David A. Zubik said during an hourlong funeral Mass at St. Paul's Cathedral in Oakland, Pittsburgh became known worldwide as the City of Champions largely because of Noll, who died of natural causes Friday night at age 82.
“Everybody who's been around him knows what a factor he has been for this league and this city,” said Mike Mularkey, the former Buffalo Bills head coach who played for Noll. “To this day, this team is built around what he started.”
Some of those current Steelers — coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and players Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Cam Heyward and Ike Taylor — gathered with Noll's former players to pay respects to the only coach to win four Super Bowls.
“He is the standard-setter — not only for us but the people in our profession,” Tomlin said.
The former Steelers included Hall of Famers Franco Harris, Joe Greene, John Stallworth and Mel Blount, plus Rocky Bleier, Merril Hoge, J.T. Thomas, John Banaszak, Louis Lipps, Mike Wagner, Andy Russell, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley and Dick Hoak. Most sat together in a group that included NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney. Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw was a no-show.
The pallbearers were Greene, Russell, Steelers President Art Rooney II, former Steelers publicist Joe Gordon; family friends Michael, John and Patrick Manning and family members Chris Mikut and Jerry Deininger.
Noll was not only a good coach — his 209 career wins are evidence — but also a man who taught his players how to live life properly, Greene said. Noll often told them how they raised their families — not their playing careers — would define their lives.
“There's not a day that goes by — not many days — that I don't reflect back on Charles Henry Noll,” Greene said.
It's apparent that others do, too, given how many succeeded in their post-football careers, including Stallworth, Harris, Bradshaw, Russell and Jack Ham. Some made far more money outside of football than in it, Stallworth and Bradshaw among them.
“He was a great coach — and a great man,” said Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame guard for the rival Houston Oilers and now a Steelers assistant coach.
Blount relies upon Noll's advice daily as he works with troubled youth at his Washington County ranch.
“I think every day there's a lesson because Chuck has instilled that in us that we're a reflection of him,” Blount said. “You try to take all that knowledge and wisdom and share with someone.”
Mularkey does. A Tennessee Titans assistant coach, he has Noll sayings plastered all about his meeting room. Among them: “Stress is when you don't know what you're doing” and “I wasn't hired to motivate players, I was hired to coach motivated players.”
To Zubik, Noll motivated nearly everyone he touched, directly or indirectly, before and after the Steelers won Super Bowls during the 1974, '75, '78 and '79 seasons.
Zubik recalled that as a young Catholic priest, he asked Noll many months in advance to speak about leadership at a Catholic youth retreat. Unbeknownst to Zubik, the retreat turned out to be the day after the Steelers arrived back from Pasadena, Calif., from their fourth Super Bowl win, in January 1980.
Regardless, Noll showed up and spoke as scheduled to a group that coincidentally included future Hall of Famer Dan Marino, a player Noll later passed on in the NFL Draft.
Zubik also invoked the name of another Hall of Fame coach in relating how “our dear coach Chuck” made Pittsburgh special. Recalling how Lombardi wanted his backs to run to daylight, Zubik said Noll showed the Steelers the light after 36 years of mostly losing.
Noll made sure those memorable teams won with dignity and respect, and by relying upon preparation rather than coach-delivered motivation.
“He exuded confidence,” said Carnell Lake, a Steelers assistant coach and former player. ”He didn't speak very many words but, when he did, you listened.”
As the estimated 500 who attended the funeral filed out into the bright sunshine — several brought Terrible Towels, and there were a few Steelers T-shirts among the dark suits — some walked by nearby Oakland Catholic High, where a sign carried a message for Noll: “Heaven's team is waiting for you.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- NFL coaches weigh in on Polamalu’s legacy
- Steelers re-sign WR Heyward-Bey to 1-year deal
- Steelers notebook: Team seek ease on West Coast travel
- Steelers notebook: Harrison return complicated by LeBeau, Titans
- Steelers notebook: Safety Mitchell could move to replace Polamalu
- Tomlin eyes Steelers’ return to defensive success this season
- Tomlin expects Steelers offense to grow
- Ex-Steeler Worilds makes ‘faith-based’ decision to move on from football
- Agent: Polamalu undecided whether to play in 2015
- Steelers notebook: Haley sees role for Archer
- Steelers notebook: Cornerback need will wait until draft