Pittsburgh Steelers: Best Coaches All-Time

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Chuck Noll: When Chuck Noll became the next Pittsburgh Steelers head coach in 1969, Art Rooney Sr. had spent 36 seasons since purchasing a team in the NFL that existed in Pittsburgh without ever reaching a playoff game. Rooney had shown great patience however and built the reputation of being one of the most loyal, proud, and genuine owners in the league.

His respect level was among the best. But his frustration of not winning and not finding a head coach that could bring him a winner was obvious. With Chuck Noll came a reputation of being a no nonsense intelligent coach who had also played in the league.

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Chuck Noll’s approach to building a winner was a strategy and game plan that once established has stuck to the Steelers’ philosophy to this day. Build from within using the draft was Noll’s plan and in 1969, his first building block came with the selection of one “Mean” Joe Greene with defense in mind to strengthen the team.

Greene was the cornerstone of what would become the “Steel Curtain.” However, Noll’s rookie season was a disaster winning the season opener and losing the next 13.

Both Art Rooney Sr. Noll did not allow that 1969 season to alter any plans. With the 1970 draft, Pittsburgh took advantage of a coin toss between the Steelers and the Chicago Bears to determine who had the first overall pick in the NFL draft which landed in Pittsburgh’s favor. With the pick, Pittsburgh chose Terry Bradshaw and the offensive cornerstone was set. Beginning with 1970, the Steelers began to mount victories.

At the end of the 1970 season, five wins were on the board. The following season it rose to six. Then in 1972, the floodgates opened thanks to Franco Harris and his Immaculate Reception as the Steelers won their first-ever playoff game in Three Rivers Stadium defeating the Oakland Raiders.

For the next seven seasons, Pittsburgh would reach the playoffs and in the process bring home four Super Bowl victories. With Chuck Noll at the top, the Steelers missed the post-season 11 times in his 23 seasons as head coach. Three of those years were at the beginning of Noll’s reign. His teams missed the post-season in four straight years from 1985-1988 and missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons twice in 1980 and 1990. Noll finally called it quits in 1991.

Chuck Will forever be remembered though not just for his ability to utilize the collegiate draft, but until the Patriots won the Super Bowl last year, was the only coach to win four Super Bowls. Noll was the engineer behind what might be the greatest draft in NFL history, that of 1974. The first pick that year was Lynn Swann. Next came Jack Lambert. The third round brought John Stallworth to the Steelers. Two rounds later, Mike Webster’s name was called by Pittsburgh.

All four men are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jimmy Allen, a decent cornerback came in the round before Webster. Noll also picked up a man by the name of Donnie Shell that no other team had a drafting interest in.

The dynasty teams of the Steelers in the 1970s however began with that selection of Joe Greene. In that 1969 draft, Noll also picked up Jon Kolb, L.C. Greenwood, and a solid backup quarterback in Terry Hanratty. Following Bradshaw’s selection a year later came Mel Blount two rounds after the “Blonde Bomber” came aboard. Ron Shanklin was in that 1970 class.

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It seemed every year Noll was finding either another Hall of Famer or an outstanding contributor to the team’s success. 1971 for exampled landed Jack Ham and Dwight White as well as Larry Brown and Gerry “Moon” Mullins. Ernie Holmes was also picked that year. Add Mike Wagner to that class. The first pick was a very talented Frank Lewis.

Other great draft picks Chuck Noll made were Franco Harris (72), Gordon Gravelle (72), Steve Furness (72), Joe Gilliam (72), J.T. Thomas (72), Bennie Cunningham (76), Ray Pinney (76), Gary Dunn (76), Robin Cole (77), Dirt Winston (77), Keith Gary (81), Louis Lipps (84), Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson in back-to-back years (1987 & 1988) both of who are now in the Hall of Fame, and Barry Foster in 1990 who still owns Steelers rushing records.

Charles Henry Noll himself is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame having been inducted in 1993. Tragically, struck with Alzheimer’s disease as well as suffering from a heart condition and issues with his back, Noll passed away on June 13, 2014 at the age of 82,

As a player, Noll for most of his career positioned himself on the offensive line with only the Cleveland Browns from 1953 to 1959. A University of Dayton product it wasn’t until the 20th round in 1953 that Cleveland selected him. But for his career, he played in all but seven games and also played defense where he picked up eight career interceptions and scored two defensive touchdowns, one on a pick-six and the other on a fumble recovery.

Chuck Noll was the AFC Coach of the Year in 1972; named to the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team as well as the 1980s team; and is in the Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is considered by many not just the greatest head coach in Pittsburgh Steelers’ history but in the NFL as well.

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