SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
July 28, 1980
While other NFL coaches revel in being regarded as demigods, Chuck Noll of the Steelers wants to be known as a pedagogue
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July 28, 1980

The Teacher

While other NFL coaches revel in being regarded as demigods, Chuck Noll of the Steelers wants to be known as a pedagogue

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"Before Chuck came, our drafts weren't really that bad—when we didn't trade them away," Dan Rooney, the Steelers' president, says. "The problem was that we ran off rookies before they had a chance to show what they could do. That's why it means so much that Chuck is so patient with them. That's why he involves his assistant coaches in the scouting, so they'll be committed to these kids."

"I think Chuck is unique in that he doesn't fit that winning-is-the-only-thing coaching philosophy," says Upton Bell, who was head of player personnel for the Colts when Noll was an assistant to Don Shula. "With him, teaching is the only thing, developing a man to fulfill his potential. If he does a good teaching job, winning is the natural by-product. In a world that looks for conformity, Chuck is a different type of human being; he's not as interesting as a coach as he is as a human being."

"Chuck and I started out coaching together," former Oakland Coach John Madden says, "and I thought he'd get out of it before I did. Maybe four years ago Chuck said to me, 'John, you're going to be in it for the rest of your life. This is perfect for you. I'm going to get out of it.' It started me thinking. Is this really all there is to life? I'd never thought about it before. And now look, I'm out of it and Chuck's still in it."

But how many teachers get such tangible rewards, see such immediate results? How can you quit when you keep turning out Rhodes scholars? "The one nightmare I always had was going into a game unprepared," Noll says. We were turning onto Noll's street now, a quiet thoroughfare in an unpretentious neighborhood. A college professor's neighborhood. "I can't pinpoint it, but if I allowed fear to come into what I'm doing, that would be my greatest fear—having spent time on the wrong thing."

He pulled into his driveway. A layer of snow covered the walk leading to his house, and I asked him if he were expected to shovel it.

"The Lord giveth," he said, "the Lord taketh away."

There is nothing in Noll's house to indicate that his profession is football. No lamps made out of helmets, no football pictures on the wall, no game balls in glass cases. "The only football stuff we have is in packing cases downstairs," Marianne says. "When we first moved into the house," son Chris says, "it was painted a dirty brown color. My mother and dad were standing in the front yard trying to decide what color to paint it, and they settled on yellow with black trim. I said, 'Oh, boy, the Steeler colors.' They both said, 'Oh, my God.' They hadn't thought of that. The next week we had a green house."

On the Sunday night before Christmas last year, Lynn Swann and his wife and sister, Terry Bradshaw and his wife, and Gerry Mullins and his girl friend (now his wife) went out caroling. They ended at Noll's house. He invited them in. It was the first time they had seen the inside of the house.

"Chuck came downstairs," Swann says. "He was wearing a sports shirt with the sleeves unbuttoned, casual slacks. He had a guitar with him, 'to get us in tune,' he said. We stayed there maybe two hours. He played the guitar.... He put on glasses to read the music. We never knew he could play. He had some pictures on the wall, photographs that he had taken of wildlife, one of a female bird nesting. A rare bird. Mullins knew it right away. I saw before me not the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I saw a side of him not many of us had seen before. There was just so much warmth in that house. That one night...I'll remember it 50 years from now."

But still, it had taken them all those years to get inside his house. "How many times have you been to your boss' house?" Bradshaw asks.

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