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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"There's a very good reason why a coach can't get too close to his players," Lambert says. "How can you get to be friends with a guy and then have to say, 'Hey, Jack, you've given me six good years, now I'm trading you.' "

Noll's diversity of interests is a problem for the people who have to rely on him for daily quotes and who find him so closed. How can this diversity exist in such a hardhead, a man who constantly reminds us, "The public does not have a right to know everything." Noll's attitude has led to a measure of clich� writing, the encomium "Renaissance Man" being the favorite of those who can't think of anything else to say about him. Occasionally, there's some questioning. He flies his own airplane and scuba dives; loves baroque and chamber music, haute cuisine and fine wine; keeps up on oceanography and the biological sciences. How can it be? Is there, perhaps, a soft spot in that mass of knowledge, some weeds in the garden?

"One thing a guy wrote in a Boston paper really griped me," Chris says. "The guy wrote that the more he talked to Chuck Noll about wines, the more he realized Noll didn't know the difference between a Ripple and a Burgundy. I hit the roof when I read that. I mean, I can remember going up to the Napa Valley and touring the vineyards with my parents when I was six."

The truth: "I developed a love for California wines when I worked as an assistant coach in San Diego," Noll says. "We used to drive up to Escondido to buy a dry muscat this family made; they used to come right out of the kitchen and sell it to us for 55�. It had the taste of a spice, of cinnamon. I've gone back there looking for the place, but it's not there anymore."

Noll's cellar at home is fortified with wines he has picked up on California trips. You'd import them, too, if you lived in Pennsylvania, with its state Liquor Control Board system, where they spell wine with an "h" in it. Noll's very big on Chardonnays and on Cabernet Sauvignons. It's a working cellar, 100 or so bottles stored in drainage tiles, which keep the temperature constant; it's for joyful drinking, not collecting, although Noll is saving some 1971 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion and a couple of cases of Beaulieu Vineyards' 1970 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that he bought for $10 a bottle and that brought $980 a case at last year's Heublein auction.

On cookery: "People have a misconception about that," Chris says. "He doesn't do all the special cooking in the house. My mom's too good a cook for that. But he'll take charge of the sauces. He's got a natural talent for it; he could be a saucier in a fancy restaurant in a minute. Loves garlic, loves tarragon. He's got a thing about omelets, too."

"You can get a reputation as a great cook by perfecting only two or three dishes," Noll says. "Just make sure you keep inviting different people to eat them." Noll enjoys good food—and not in tiny amounts. As A.J. Liebling said, "Any food worth eating is worth eating a lot of."

"When I was little I was a very slow eater," Chris says. "Dad was very fast. He'd be finished in a minute, and when I'd stop for a rest, he'd say, 'You don't want that, do you?' and he'd reach over with his fork. It annoyed me. Once I waited till he did it, and then I let him have it right in the hand with my fork. Pow!"

Noll's love of music goes back to his Cleveland Brown days, when he was a regular at the Cleveland Orchestra. On his coffee table at home this night was a recording of a Telemann Trio Sonata for Recorder, Viola da Gamba and Continuo, by the Manhattan Recorder Society. An old favorite. "I bought it in Kalamazoo, Mich., on a scouting trip when I was with San Diego," Noll says. "I started playing the recorder myself, and when I'd tell someone, they'd say, 'Oh, you play the recorder? What speed, 33 rpm?' "

One lesser-known fascination of Noll's is roses; he had a formidable rose garden at his home in San Diego. "When we went back one year and looked at our old house," Chris says, "the people had ripped the rose garden out and put in a swing set. That really hurt him."

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