this season after Receivers Coach Lionel Taylor, the senior member of Noll's
eight-man staff, had decided that more than seven years in one place would be
excessive and moved to the Rams. Moore, a onetime Iowa quarterback, had coached
at the University of Minnesota. "Noll hired a college guy who's never been
a receiver," says a Steeler veteran. "He's going to coach such
prima-donna experts as Lynn Swann, Frank Lewis and John Stallworth? It's going
to be interesting."
It will be,
although Moore may take comfort in knowing that under Widenhofer, Jack Ham and
Lambert joined Russell as All-Pros, and under Hoak, Franco Harris became an
acceptable blocker in the Steelers' must-block attack, and Rocky Bleier, born
to block but little else, became a 1,000-yard runner.
Meantime, if one
of Noll's assistants were to obtain a head coaching job, Noll would be relieved
to see him gone, for Noll carries the perplexing stigma of never having sent an
assistant to a head job. More to the point, in Noll's view, is the possibility
that stationary coaches become frustrated and that staffs that remain largely
intact succumb to inbreeding of coaching ideas. Carson had been head coach of
Georgia Tech for five years, a miserable experience following, as he did, Bobby
Dodd. Short, now gray, and softspoken, Carson appears mousy alongside Noll's
younger and larger assistants but is likened by the knowledgeable Russell to
"a mad scientist looking for a formula and changing it every day." On
Sundays, says Russell, even as the Steelers walk through the stadium tunnel to
the field, Carson abruptly creates refinements in defensive alignments.
Hardened veterans freely call him a genius. Yet Carson repeatedly has failed to
gain a head coaching job after having been interviewed by a succession of
owners and general managers.
have had a great interview," a friend in the New York Jets organization
told Carson last year. "I think you've got the job." Lou Holtz, a
college coach equipped with a bowl record and one-liners for the New York
media, got the job, then at season's end fled back to college ball at Arkansas.
To the general manager of another club who told Noll he could not hire Carson
because he needed a public-relations figure to sell tickets, Noll growled,
"Your best public relations is winning."
wants a P.R. man, another wants something else," says Carson. "I've
never seen one who wants a football coach. That's too simple." Carson
wonders if the way to make head coach is to change teams every year, like
switching from black to red at roulette, until he lands with a club that fires
its head coach in midseason, then turns to him in the emergency. Top assistants
on catastrophes make it.
To this day,
Noll's aides berate themselves for having failed to prevent the 24-7 whipping
that Oakland administered to the injury-riddled Steelers in last season's AFC
championship game. What might they possibly have done to compensate for the
fact that they had only one healthy running back, reserve Reggie Harrison, who
lined up by his lonesome in a bizarre one-back backfield?
Says Dick Hoak,
"We should have told our players at the beginning of the week, 'We got no
running backs ready.' But we said, 'This guy might play—that guy might play.'
Franco's ribs were badly bruised. He couldn't breathe. I'd played 10 years, I
indicts himself. "I should have told my defensive linemen, 'We got to win
2-0 with a safety.' Instead, I got my nose into the offense's business,
worrying about who'd play. It gets through to your own that you're worrying
about something else, and then they assume everything's hunky-dory with them.
You must concentrate on your job and let everything else fall into
Left unspoken by
these self-flagellating second bananas, one suspects, is this: Had the Steelers
beaten Oakland and gone on to win an unprecedented third consecutive Super
Bowl, how could club owners or colleges shopping for a new head coach have
failed to choose at least one Steeler assistant? But that is the way it goes in
the assistant-coaching business. You turn to writing next year's playbook and
hope that next year brings the chance of a lifetime.