Noll shuts curtain after 23 seasons as Steelers coach Guided Pittsburgh to 4 Super Bowl wins

December 27, 1991|By Vito Stellino

Chuck Noll left pro football yesterday with four Super Bowl rings and a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Noll, after 23 years as Pittsburgh Steelers coach, leaves an unmatched legacy of four Super Bowl championships, but his success on the field obscured his many other facets -- he can fly an airplane, pilot a boat, savor a fine wine and quote Emerson.

It was typical of Noll that when he was asked at a news conference yesterday about the acrimonious departure of such stars as Terry Bradshaw -- who didn't mention Noll's name when he gave his induction speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- and Franco Harris, he quoted Emerson.

"Obviously, you'd like everything to be smooth, but termination is not easy," he said. "It's not usually smooth. I heard somebody tell me poet Ralph Waldo Emerson probably put it best when he said, 'Your actions speak so loudly, I can't hear what you're saying,' and I'd like to keep it that way."

What Noll apparently was saying was that what those players did for him on the field overshadowed any derogative comments they made after they left.

What they did was dominate pro football in the 1970s, winning four Super Bowls from the 1974 to 1979 seasons and gaining recognition as possibly the best team to play the game.

Noll, who will turn 60 on Jan. 5, put the team together, but was content to stay in the background and let the players bask in the spotlight. He refused to do commercials, never wrote a book, never had a television show and rarely came up with witty one-liners.

He also rarely showed his emotions in public, though he became emotional at the news conference yesterday.

He admitted that as he came to his decision, "I talked to some of the people in the organization and we cried a little bit together."

Because the Steelers had made the playoffs only once in the past seven years, there had been much speculation that if Noll wanted to stay, team president Dan Rooney was going to order him to shake up his coaching staff the way he did in 1988. Firing offensive coordinator Joe Walton was believed to be one of Rooney's top priorities.

It never got that far. When Noll met with Rooney yesterday, the coach told him he'd decided to step down.

All that was left was the news conference, which was televised live in Pittsburgh.

Rooney was so emotional that when he started to make his statement, he said, "Ready, because I don't think I can do this twice."

Rooney then lauded Noll. "Chuck is a great man, and he hasn't changed from Day One," he said. "He brought dignity and integrity to the coaching profession, and that, even more than four Super Bowls, is what it means to be a Steeler. He and my father [the late Arthur J. Rooney] made the Steelers special, and the Steelers will always be special because of them.

"The greatest compliment that I know is that my wife said a long time ago, 'If anything happens to us, I would like Chuck Noll to raise my kids.' "

Those comments are the reflection of the close relationship that has built up over the years between Noll and Rooney. The Steelers last made an announcement about Noll's contract status when they announced that he got an extension in 1970. All they ever said after that was that Noll's contract was always extended before it reached its last year. Noll never had an agent.

Rooney said Noll will retain a role with the team. When Noll was asked what it would be, he said, "Well, friends with Dan."

Noll said he would have no role in finding a replacement. There's speculation the Steelers are interested in Georgia Tech coach Bobby Ross if he's not already locked up by the San Diego Chargers.

Noll started his comments by saying, "It's much easier coming in than going out. The emotions that build up and the attachments that build up over 23 years are tough to sever."

When he was asked why he decided to retire now, he said, "Well, 39years in professional football is a goodly time. If you write for 39 years, maybe you ought to think about it."

Noll played with the Cleveland Browns from 1953-59 and became an assistant coach with the Los Angeles (later San Diego) Chargers under Sid Gillman in 1960. He spent three years with the Baltimore Colts under Don Shula from 1966-68 before being hired by the Steelers.

Noll, who was the type of man who would explain how to build a clock if you asked him the time, poked fun at himself when he was asked whether he'd coach again.

"I'm not planning on coaching anymore, although I've been accused of coaching all my life when I was playing or doing other things, like on the golf course," he said. "Nobody wanted to play with me because of it."

Noll retires as the NFL's fifth-winningest coach of all time, with a 209-156-1 mark including postseason, though he was 51-62 in recent years when the team misfired in the draft.

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