There are only three men left on this list, and they all had a part in crafting what many of us believe to be the finest franchise in professional sports. You may argue with my rankings, and you have every right to. These are subjective, and I’ve said that from the beginning. Is Bill Nunn more influential than Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw or any of the other players who have left their blood, sweat, and tears on the field? You could certainly argue that he’s not, but I think the case that he is can also be made.
It won’t be any different with the next three – I promise. However, I think we can all agree that these three men belong at the top.
The question will be, in what order.
So, let’s get to it, with the third most influential person in the history of the Steelers.
3 - Chuck Noll
It still amazes me that Chuck Noll never once won Coach of the Year during the 70’s. He was the Maxwell Club Coach of the Year in 1989. Yet, he won 4 Super Bowls and created the most dominant team to play the game over a decade. He taught the players, as Tony Dungy just referenced in his Hall of Fame speech about doing “their life’s work”. He turned the Steelers into a team that built by the draft and did things the right way. He was the architect of greatness and created the team we all know and love.
Noll was said to be extremely shy and didn’t give many interviews, which probably hurt him overall in the recognition area. I mean, sportswriters vote on this stuff, and he’s standoffish with them, as he was, then it’s less likely that they are going to vote for him. The real truth is that those 1970s teams were so talented that his contributions as head coach (and architect of the team) could easily be overlooked, and he could be viewed as more of a manager rather than a real coach. We know the truth of that – all you have to do is listen to the players, and you know that Noll got the best out of them.
There is a book which was released not that long ago about Noll – “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” and it’s an absolute must-read for any Steelers fan. It’s much more than just a history of Chuck Noll - the coach but is a tribute to Chuck Noll – the man. It’s a love story more than anything else, but wrapped up in the tale of Noll and his wife Marianne is so much information and history that it is difficult to put down.
If you don’t own it – buy it. If you do own it but haven’t read it yet – read it. It’s just that good.
There are many stories about Noll and his philosophies on football and how to win. One of my favorite stories that many of the players attribute to him is that he always told them “If I have to motivate you, I’ll fire you.” He believed in personal responsibility for your own craft. He was a teacher, and he was more than willing to help players achiever their potential, but they had to be the one driving their own success or failure.
Some other great (to slightly alter the vernacular of today) "Noll-isms" are:
Before you can win a game, you have to not lose it.
Some coaches pray for wisdom. I pray for 260-pound tackles. They'll give me plenty of wisdom.
Gentlemen, welcome to the NFL, you are now being paid to play, football is your profession. But I can tell you it is not your life. You can't let it be. Part of my job is to help you find your life's work.
Noll always looked at football as just one phase of someone's life, and not necessarily the most important phase. He felt that part of his responsibility as the coach was to not only prepare the men in his charge for the upcoming game, but also to provide them tools for succeeding at "their life's work", which is what would take place after football.
Even what many might view as one of Noll's failures, his relationship with Bradshaw, is almost certainly a success. Despite Bradshaw's feelings towards his ex-coach, there is no question that he got that Noll got the best out of Bradshaw on the field, and Bradshaw might not have become the success he was later in his career if not for his time with Noll and the Steelers.
Dick Hoak, former Steelers coach and player probably sums it up best:
He's the one who turned the thing around. I played for a bunch of coaches, three or four coaches. You could tell it was going nowhere until he came. And you knew he had a plan. He knew what he wanted to do. He had the respect of all the players. A lot of times guys go around and make remarks about coaches and things like that, just kidding around. But nobody ever kidded around. They had the greatest respect for Chuck.
The Steelers of today still echo much of the mentality and concepts that Chuck Noll first instilled in them. It was his vision and his passion for how the game should be taught and played that helped to mold one of, if not the, greatest dynasties in the history of the league.
Noll spent 23 years as the head coach of the Steelers. He was the example that taught the Rooney family the value of consistency. The one thing that can’t be understated is that Noll’s arrival in Pittsburgh corresponds with the turnaround of the team. He changed the dynamics, the environment, and the attitude. That’s why he’s the top coach on this list and number 3 person overall.
Considering all the things I said about Noll, who is more influential in the history of the team? There are only two names left on this list and really the only question left to answer is who is number 1, and who is number 2.