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The love of oceanography was born from a casual snorkeling venture with Chris in the Florida Keys. "I got excited the first time I looked down there," Noll says. "So much life to be discovered. Discovery—that's the thing that excites me. A new restaurant, an island in the Caribbean, it's all part of the same thing. People ask me why I look at football films so much. Every time I go over them I see a new thing. You can look at the same one 20 times, and then all of a sudden something will jump out at you."
As for Noll's political views, his son says, "He has very firm beliefs, but if you're going to argue with him you'd better be on solid ground, because he reads everything. Sometimes I disagree with him, but I'm not always sure enough of myself to argue it. A few months ago I asked him which candidate he was interested in right then. He said Connally. Right there I disagreed. I think he voted for Carter last election. He liked his record in Georgia, the way he redid the government and cut down on the bureaucracy. I don't think he feels Carter has done the same thing in Washington, though."
"Chris said I voted for Carter? I'm not so sure," Noll says. "I'm certainly not one-party oriented. I think people have misinterpreted my politics. In the first place, politicians deal in words, in leadership through rhetoric. I'm not in that business. But if you want to know what I'm against, it's handouts—getting too much in front."
In football, one NFL coach says, "You're in the reward and punishment business. Things that come easy are unproductive. That's why most football coaches are basically conservative. Besides, what did Chuck Noll ever get that he didn't earn himself?"
A fine God-given mind, for one thing. The disposition and inclinations of a teacher—the 5-year-old who started school a year early because "I couldn't wait." And a penchant for cutting through stereotypes. When the world was switching to big, tall offensive linemen, Noll went to smaller, quicker guys, people who could think on their feet, who could make a trap-block offense go. He wanted his linebackers quick, for pass coverage. Weight could be added later. Maybe he saw himself in both those positions—the little, quick guy who could think. Rival coaches admire the ability of Noll and his staff to get the utmost from raw talent—players from the black schools, for instance, who had never been exposed to sophisticated coaching. And once that talent got to the Steelers, there were no complicated behavior codes to restrict it. The Steelers have always had an open locker room; the assistant coaches have been free to talk to whomever they liked; the players haven't been given any rigid rules of dress.
"As long as a guy is presentable, it doesn't matter to me how he dresses," Noll says. "Beards and mustaches, what kind of haircut you have, aren't important. Remember the old image? A crew cut denoted a big, dumb guy who couldn't think, couldn't act. Fashions change." And Noll has never accepted the idea that everyone must be treated alike. "There are 45 different personalities on a team, each of them unique," he says. "How can you deal with each one the same way?"
" Joe Greene always got special treatment; it was as if Chuck made him his special project," says Ray Mansfield, the retired Steeler center. "Chuck played it just right with him. You'd see Chuck in the locker room, talking head to head with Joe, maybe with his arm around him. Then one day Chuck just cut him loose. He chewed him out, fined him for something. You're on your own now, buddy. It was like the momma bird shoving the chick out of the nest. And Joe flew."
"You have to understand what Joe was when he first came to the Steelers, and then what he became," Andy Russell says. "When he joined the team he was an emotional mess on the field. He didn't have a hold on himself. It was all peaks and valleys. Chuck tried to teach him that when you get yourself on a nice, even plane, you'll be a much better player. And Joe turned into the most devastating player of the decade. I mean, there were times when he single-handedly won games. You'd be late in the fourth quarter, the score close, everybody so tense you couldn't breathe, and Joe would come into the huddle and say, 'O.K., we're gonna do it now! Right now! This play! It's take-a-way down!' And he'd do it. He'd go through bodies and get to the football and strip it away. You'd see it in the films afterward, and you couldn't believe it. You'd say, 'Hey, run that back again.' Anybody with intelligence knows that a player like that can't be treated the same as everybody else."
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, in an almost sideways stance, 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 great quickness. It helped the Steelers amass a phenomenal defensive record through the three-game post season set, ending with the 17 yards rushing to which they held the Vikings in the Super Bowl.