Chuck Noll's greatest contributions weren't trophies, they were identity and purpose

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Chuck Noll's contributions the Pittsburgh Steelers are immeasurable, and his place in NFL history is secure. His greatest legacy however is the sense of identity and purpose he instilled upon the franchise over 40 years ago, one that lasts to this day.

At 37 years old, Chuck Noll was a very young head coach when he arrived in Pittsburgh, 1969.

A former guard for the Cleveland Browns, forced to retire due to epilepsy, Noll turned to coaching where he found success with the AFL's Los Angeles Chargers and then the Baltimore Colts.

When the Steelers were looking for a new head coach, his resume impressed Dan Rooney, who by that time had succeeded the Chief in running the day-to-day operations of the Steelers. In Noll's interview with Dan, "the man himself" impressed Rooney even more.

He wasn't the first guy in line for the job, that was Joe Paterno. However, He declined the Chiefs offer in order to stay at Penn State University.

So when Noll arrived in Pittsburgh on Monday, January the 27th, and assumed the reigns of a team that had known nothing but the most abject of failure its entire existence, he couldn't possibly have guessed.

He couldn't have guessed that the franchise's greatest player, the cornerstone of his dynasty would be drafted just 24 hours later. He couldn't have known that Franco Harris was going to snatch a ball inches from the ground, and in doing so change the way a city thought about football and the Steelers.

I don't think in his wildest dreams he would have imagined that in the next 23 years he would help construct a Steelers wing to the Hall of Fame, or that his team would carve out a space in the history books so large that even today, they are regarded as the greatest of all time.

Of course for Noll, it all started with the fundamentals and technique. After assuming his role as head coach, Noll promptly told the team that reason they had lost so much is because, quite frankly, they weren't very good.

So he began to purge the roster, and by the time 1974 came around, you could count the number of players remaining from that first year in one hand.

Replacing those who didn't make the cut were a legion of players drafted, developed and instructed by Noll and his coaching staff.

Between Noll, Art Rooney Jr.,  and Bill Nunn, the Steelers pulled of a string of Drafting success that is unrivalled in NFL history. Within Noll's first five years as head coach, the Steelers drafted nine Hall of Fame players, including four in the 1974 draft.

Those nine players would form the core of a dynasty, and establish the Steelers model, which placed an emphasis on drafting and developing, as the envy of the NFL. The 1979 Super Bowl winning Steelers team was in fact comprised entirely of players drafted and developed by the Steelers, a feat that is still unmatched today, or likley to be any time soon.

After completing one of the best rebuilding jobs the NFL has ever seen, Noll's Steelers set about dominating their opnonents, winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1974-75, and then again in 1978-79.

In the space of one decade, Noll turned the hapless Steelers from a laughing stock into one of the NFL's premiere franchises, an aura which remains with them to this day. Noll became the first, and only coach ever to win four Super Bowls, whilst the Steelers remain the only franchise ever to win four in six years.

Noll coached the Steelers for 23 years, retiring in 1991 with a record of 209-156-1, and a playoff record of 16-8. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NFL.

The reputation of Noll the coach is well established, he was committed to drafting the right kind of players, focusing on technique, preparation and the meticulous detail involved in winning a match. He was also one of the all time great winners.

Noll as a man however was more enigmatic. With his players he was distant, aloof, cold even.

He did not try to get close with players, it was just not his style. L.C Greenwood was a key cog in the famous Steel Curtain defensive line, and played 13 seasons with the Steelers. He recalled only ever having one conversation with Chuck Noll his entire career, the day Noll told him he was getting cut from the team.

He never launched into fiery speeches in the locker room or on the sidelines.

Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette"He wasn't one who put his arm around you and pumped you up," said former running back Rocky Bleier. "His way was, 'I don't have time to motivate you. My job is to take self-motivators and show them how to become better.' He wasn't very comfortable at having to go pat guys on the back or jack them up. He will not go down in the annals of history as a great, halftime rah-rah guy."

Noll didn't believe in "false chatter", as he called it. He didn't want players that had to be motivated by him or anyone else to play their best, because if that were the case they didn't really want to be there. He wanted self-motivated players, guys he could teach and train without having to pump their ego before every game.

Of course, Noll did have his moments.

Prior to the 1974 AFC Championship game, John Madden proclaimed that the Raiders and the Dolphins were the two best teams in the NFL. Noll, very uncharacteristically , told his team in no uncertain terms that the best time in the NFL was in the room with him, a moment that sticks with Mean Joe Greene to this day.

In 1987 When Noll felt the Houston Oilers were deliberately trying to injure his players, he marched across the field and threatened to punch then head coach Jerry Glanville.

Chuck Noll as a man has never been comfortably understood the media or his players, which is not surprising considering he was a man of high intellect and many diverse interests.

I was some 22 years away from being born when Chuck Noll and the Steel Curtain began to tear up the NFL, so when I first looked back upon Noll's era it was the glare of an academic looking for facts and details.

What I found there was the genesis of the Steelers I know and love today. They may have been founded in 1933, but the Pitsburgh Steelers didn't begin living and breathing until January 1969.

When we talk about Steelers nation and the "Steeler way" we are taking about a sense of camaraderie and a way of life that Noll created. When you think about the aura that surrounds this franchise, and the feeling that it stands for something more than just football, family, working hard, opportunity whatever, that all began when Chuck Noll set foot in Pittsburgh 45 years ago.

To be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan is to be a part of a rich, unrivalled history full of larger than life characters, winning and most of all a certain belief in the way things should be done.

That to me is Chuck Noll's greatest legacy.

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