okay," says Mullins. Mansfield puts it this way: "Between Rad and his
linemen, it's a love-hate relationship."
In his roomy,
antiseptically well-ordered office, Noll leans forward on his desk and says,
"We're after teachers. Teachers are not necessarily people who have played
pro football. You find 'em wherever you find 'em." Scouting college players
by dropping in at spring practices, Noll winces when he hears a coach bark,
"I told you not to do that." Telling, Noll argues, is not teaching.
"It takes a
special kind to be a good teacher," he says. "It takes the desire to
teach. Teaching is doing it and doing it and doing it—and selling it. The most
important thing you have in coaching is a fight for the mind. That's why
coaches hate to have contrary-mind interference." Contrary-mind
interference is second-guessing by fans and press.
drills constitute but a fraction of the assistant's long workday. Hour upon
hour, alone or in the company of his particular players, he squints at dull
gray film playing on a 4' x 6' screen, analyzing his players' performances or
those of their next opponent. Film is the language of coaching—it tells players
what words cannot and leaves less room for mistakes of semantics. Citing
Sandburg's research that showed Lincoln's Inaugural Address to have been
variously interpreted around the nation according to geographical
self-interest, Noll says, "You hear what you want to hear." Men also
see what they want to see, so film is not the total answer, but it carries such
priority that assistants see more of it than they do of their wives.
In their offices,
occupying side-by-side desks not unlike nine-to-five corporate white-collar
workers, the assistants scratch out their game plans, each coach prone to
strategies that heighten his unit's prospects for success but perhaps place
unwelcome stress on other units. The defensive line coach may want to load up
to stop the run, but the defensive-backfield coach is gearing to stop the pass.
The linebacker coach frets about both. "There has to be a mixture,"
says Defensive Coordinator Carson. "We work it out, and then we go in there
[to Noll's office] and say, 'This is the way we're going to do it.' "
incidental duties, Steeler assistants scout college talent in postseason bowl
games and at spring practices, fan out after the player draft to sign undrafted
free agents, take up the banquet-circuit slack left by Noll, who regards public
appearances as anathema, and throw parties for their units to build esprit de
corps. ("Those lousy parties couldn't win a game in a thousand years,"
says a Steeler veteran.)
Noll serves as
his own offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, originally having assigned
himself those duties for a maybe not-so-peculiar reason. As a former defensive
coach, he explains, "I felt I had more to learn about offense." In
other words, the headmaster chose to educate himself as the Steelers built.
Cynics speculate that Noll has surrounded himself with college coaches because
they enable him to feel less threatened, but such suspicions surely lack
substance. No head coach who took charge of the department he was most ignorant
of can be suspected of holding himself to be anything less than invincible.
When Noll has
felt he could afford to, he has signed on coaches of rank inexperience on the
theory that they come with open minds and an eager spirit. Five years ago,
having hired the seasoned Carson a year earlier, Noll deemed he could risk
hiring Woody Widenhofer, then 30, to coach his linebackers. The appointment of
Widenhofer (pronounced Woodenhoffer, but seldom by toastmasters) was
flabbergasting because now he would be giving orders to All-Pro Andy Russell,
who 11 years before had been the University of Missouri's MVP, while Woody,
also at Missouri, was a mere underclass redshirt. Had Noll not paused to
reflect upon that? "An interesting sidelight for sportswriters," he
linebacker meetings, when the game film on the wall exposed Russell to have
blown a play, Woody's rebuke would be couched in tact. "Andy, you're too
good a player for that to happen." Whereupon Middle Linebacker Jack
Lambert, professing horror that the ex-Missouri redshirt dare criticize the
ex-Missouri MVP even mildly, would shriek, "Oh my God! Did you two have a
Noll's signing of
Backfield Coach Dick Hoak six years ago and Receivers Coach Tom Moore this year
appeared as eccentric as his hiring of Widenhofer. Hoak, 10 years a Steeler
running back, including two seasons under Noll, had coached but one year—and
that at tiny Wheeling (W. Va.) Central Catholic High, where under trying
circumstances (for example, his fired predecessor had remained on the faculty
as school disciplinarian and prevented players from attending practice by
keeping them after school) Hoak won only one of 10 games.