A piece of Pittsburgh history vanished when “The Emperor Chaz” Chuck Noll died in his sleep on Friday night, June 12, 2014. Known for his great coaching skills and turning a losing team into a winning team in the span of a few short years, I think Chuck Noll was so much more than a coach.
This past weekend, I watched television interviews and read many complimentary articles about Coach Noll. As a young person in the 70’s, I remember what he did for the Steeler football team, which impacted the entire city of Pittsburgh. The success of the Steelers made every Pittsburgher feel successful. We became proud of our city again as we Pittsburghers were thrust into the national spotlight, even if Coach Noll shunned the spotlight for himself. In reflecting upon all of the media coverage of his passing and my own recollections, I have come to the conclusion that Chuck Noll was not “just” a coach; he was a teacher. In my opinion, he was a really great teacher. Chuck Noll was a man who believed in his players, and made them believe in themselves, as individuals and as a team. He set his expectations' bar extremely high. Just like any great teacher, he knew that whether he set his expectations high or low, his players would rise to meet them.
Coach Noll also taught the importance of being well prepared. One of my favorite quotes from Coach Noll is "Pressure is when you don't know what you're doing." His team was so prepared that there was no need to feel pressure or panic. Another great quote from him which illustrates the importance of preparedness is this one: “Leaving the game plan is a sign of panic, and panic is not in our game plan.” He was truly a man with a vision; his vision became the shared vision of the entire team; success followed. This quote from former linebacker Hall of Famer Jack Ham sums it up. "He was the glue. He was the guy that got all of us to buy into how to win a championship. He took the lead. Preparation. He always felt you don't win games on Sunday at 1 p.m., you win games in your preparation on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at practice. I think we all bought into that." Yes, Chuck Noll was a great teacher.
As a teacher, I also loved the way Coach Noll taught and made the team practice the concept of true teamwork, a concept easily translated to every classroom in the country. Sharing responsibilities and working together in the classroom or on a team are key elements for being successful in life. Here is Coach Noll’s opinion of teamwork: “I can’t tell you how much you gain, how much progress you can make, by working together as a team, by helping one another. You get much more done that way. If there’s anything the Steelers of the ‘70s epitomized, I think it was that teamwork.” When I think about the most successful classes I taught during my long tenure, I know that the classes in which the students worked together were the best for everyone, both students and me.
Finally, Chuck Noll was a wonderful teacher not just because he taught preparation and teamwork, but he knew that the life of a football player was short-lived at best, so he taught players how to move from football to “their life’s work”. Coach Noll did not just teach in the present tense, he prepared his students for the future. When you think of the big names from his teams, the men have moved on, contributing positively to society, becoming successful businessmen, and being involved with charity work, serving others. Perhaps this was his greatest success as a teacher: to be able to influence the lives of others in a positive manner, helping them to become better people. I feel sure that Coach was proud of his boys.
I am not a big football fan, but I am a huge Chuck Noll fan. I admire and respect his accomplishments as a coach, but I revere him for his teachings. Chuck Noll will always be remembered as a great coach, but I will always think of him as one of the best teachers I have ever known. His influence continues today, just as the influence of a good teacher is a small ripple in the lives of many, washing over the souls of students in ways they do not even realize. Goodbye, Emperor Chaz. You were the "Mr. Chips" of an era.
Rittman Publishing, LLC