Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
The Pittsburgh Steelers were coached to four Super Bowl titles in six years by Chuck Noll.
Awards: Football Hall of Fame
Charles Henry Noll was born on January 5, 1932, in Cleveland, Ohio. As a result of his football prowess, he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and played six years and then retired. Because of his football knowledge, he was hired as a Defensive Assistant Coach for the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, and then became Defensive Coordinator for the Baltimore Colts. Finally, he was named the Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach and was the only coach of his time to win four Super Bowls. Chuck Noll died of natural causes in his Pennsylvania home on June 13, 2014.
Charles Henry Noll was born January 5, 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio. Noll attended Benedictine High School, a Roman Catholic preparatory high school where he played football. He played running back and tackle during his tenure at Benedictine High School, winning All-State honors. Through his achievements as a high school football player he won a football scholarship and attended the University of Dayton, a private Catholic institution in Ohio. As a result of his football ability, Noll was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1953, where he played until his retirement six years later in 1959.
He was an Assistant Coach with the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers and then served as the Defensive Coordinator for the Baltimore Colts under Head Coach Don Shula during their 13-1 season in 1968, in which the team set a National Football League (NFL) record of fewest points allowed. The Colts’ success that year brought Noll greater attention throughout the league. When the Pennslyvania State University coach Joe Paterno turned down an offer for the head coaching position, the Steelers hired Noll for what would be his first and only head-coaching job in 1969. Noll took the 4-3 defense he ran in Baltimore and implemented a similar defensive system in Pittsburgh, which became the famous “Steel Curtain” defense.
Noll helped the Steelers shed their “losers” image through astute drafts and strong leadership. He swiftly established the Steelers by building the program with an emphasis on the annual college football draft to ultimately win an NFL championship. The rebuilding program focusing on the draft quickly produced a productive outcome by his fourth team in 1972 that finished with an 11-3-0 record and the AFC Central Division title. The Steelers eventually lost the 1972 AFC championship to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, but as consolation he won the United Press International (UPI) NFL Coach of the Year award.
Noll is the only head coach to win four Super Bowls. The Noll-led Steelers were victorious in Super Bowl’s IX (1975), X (1976), XIII (1979) and XIV (1980). Even more astonishingly, Noll took over a Pittsburgh team that had not won a championship for almost 40 years of NFL play and won these four within a six year period. Chuck Noll led the Steelers from a miserable undeveloped 1-13 season team to the highest level ever attained by the NFL team to date.
In 1989, Noll received some overdue recognition and was named NFL Coach of the Year. That was the year he guided the Steelers into the second round of the playoffs by doing a remarkable job keeping the team prepared and progressively improving its play throughout the season and still be competitive in their two playoff games. Noll retired as the Steelers Head Coach in 1991 after a record of 209-156-1, including a post season record of 16-8-0. In total, the Noll-led Steelers won a total of nine American Football Conference (AFC) Central Division championships and had winning records in 15 of its last 20 seasons. Noll was given a ceremonial title of Administration Advisor in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ front office, but had no real role in the team’s operations. Two years later after his retirement in 1993 he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Notably, Noll’s legacy also included providing opportunities for African Americans in the NFL. Under Noll, Joe Gilliam became the league’s first African American starting quarterback during the 1973 season. In 1975, Franco Harris, the Steelers running back, became the first African American to win the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. During the 1980s, Tony Dungy got his first start as an NFL Assistant Coach under Noll with the Steelers’ as a Defensive Backs Coach and then later a Defensive Coordinator. Noll was known to strongly support Dungy as a well-qualified head coaching candidate. Although Dungy did not get the head coaching job with the Steelers when Noll retired, he did eventually become the Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Following retirement, Noll spent quality time with his wife Marianne at homes in Pittsburgh, Florida, and North Carolina. In August of 2007, the football field at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, where the Steelers hold training camp, was dedicated and renamed Chuck Noll Field. On June 13, 2014, Chuck Noll passed away surrounded by family in his Sewickley, Pennsylvania home, just outside of Pittsburgh, according to CNN U.S. News columnists Ben Brumfield and Kevin Conlon. Noll was 82 and, in addition to his wife, is survived by his son, Chris.
“Chuck was just the ultimate leader,” Joe Greene said, according to CNN News. Greene had anchored the “Steel Curtain” defensive line and played for Noll his entire career. He had truth and belief in what he was saying,” Greene continued. “[A]nd over time all of those things he said were validated, the things about winning football games and being a solid citizen.
Adler, Brad. Coaching Matters: Leadership and Tactics of the NFL’s Ten Greatest Coaches. Dulles, VA: Brassey’s Inc., 2003. 160-188.