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Noll the teacher has tended to overshadow Noll the innovator, mainly because Noll himself tends to downplay innovation. "If I had to choose between a coach who's a strategy guy and one who's a teacher, it'd be no contest," Noll says. "I'd take the teacher every time." But they can go together. The tackle-pinch defense of 1974—which aligned Greene, the left tackle, angling in at the center, while right tackle Ernie Holmes played the center straight up—came from a desire to make maximum use of Greene's quickness. It helped the Steelers amass a phenomenal defensive record through the three-game postseason, ending with holding the Vikings to 17 yards rushing in the Super Bowl.
The Steelers threw three big offensive innovations at the Rams in the last Super Bowl: the hitch-and-go pass out of a slot formation that gave Stallworth those two big catches in the fourth quarter; the 32-yard pass to Franco Harris that set up the first field goal, in which Harris sneaked out from a position outside the guard; and the pat-and-go quick snap to Bradshaw that worked twice and kept a drive alive in the third quarter.
In 1978, when defenses were cheating up and stopping the Steelers' ground game, Noll opened up the offense. Why the heck shouldn't he? He had the guys to make it work: Bradshaw, Swann, Stallworth. And hadn't he broken in as a coach under the Chargers' big-play system—Hadl to Alworth, bombs away, release the pigeons and on with the games?
"But the key to everything was teaching," Russell says. "You'd see him being stopped by some rookie after an afternoon practice during two-a-days, a kid he's got to know is going to be cut in a matter of days. The kid would say, 'Coach, I'm having trouble with this technique,' and Chuck would spend half an hour with him. I think he enjoyed it more than coaching the superstars. He just loves to teach."
THE DARK SIDE OF THE PICTURE IS BRADSHAW. In 1971, Bradshaw's second year, Noll brought in the first and last quarterbacks coach he's ever had, Babe Parilli, his roommate on the Browns. Two years later Parilli was gone, and Noll took over the job himself. Meanwhile, the Steelers had drafted a young quarterback out of Tennessee State, Joe Gilliam, to battle Bradshaw and Terry Hanratty for the starting job. Three young quarterbacks on one club, a tricky situation.
In 1974, Pittsburgh's first Super Bowl year, Gilliam started the opening six games. He'd been the quarterback in camp during the strike, and he'd looked better than anyone else when the veterans came back. He was benched for the seventh game. Gilliam's idea of an offense was five minutes of game plan, then put the ball up. Bradshaw started the next three games, Hanratty the next, and Bradshaw came back to finish the season. Noll's quarterback meetings were a nightmare for him. When Bradshaw would come out of the game after throwing an interception, Noll—lips tight, eyes blazing—would meet him on the sideline. Rage. Bradshaw is one of the few Steelers in Noll's 11-year career ever to get such treatment. Why the hell wasn't he learning faster? Why, dammit?
Says Hanratty, "I think Chuck so badly wanted Terry to be great—he wanted him to just win the job flat-out and end all the turmoil—that he lost his head. Have you ever seen Shula going toe-to-toe with Griese like that? Or Landry with Staubach? And Terry's better than all of them. When I made a mistake, Chuck never chewed me out; maybe he didn't feel I'd been around that long. I told Terry 100 times, 'Tell him to go to hell. You're the quarterback.' But Terry would shake his head and say, 'No, no, I can't do that.' To this day I don't think it's settled."
"Our relationship has changed," Bradshaw says. "When I was young, I was in awe of him. All that power. I feel that in the last few years I've gotten to know him. I know he's very concerned about me as a person, my private life, football. He's very proud of what I've accomplished.
"It was a rough road, a testing ground. But I think he felt I could handle it. I remember once going in and asking to be traded, and he said, 'You're going to be a great quarterback someday. It takes time.'