The moment they hired Chuck Noll to be their head coach in 1969 is among the most important in Pittsburgh Steelers history. And because of the NFL's push for parity, we may never again see a coach enjoy a run of success like the one Noll began a few years later.
Noll, a 1993 Hall of Fame inductee, died in his sleep of natural causes at his home Friday night, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He was 82 years old.
The Steelers that Noll inherited had not made the playoffs since the 1947 season, well before the Super Bowl era began. They finished 1-13 in his first campaign, after Noll left his post as an assistant coach for the Baltimore Colts to run the show in the Steel City. Three years later, with a roster that featured the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Joe Greene and Jack Ham, Pittsburgh captured its first of six Super Bowl victories.
Noll's team repeated the next season, then went back-to-back again in 1978 and '79. Though he did not claim the Vince Lombardi Trophy again over his final 12 seasons with the Steelers, Noll's legacy was set in stone thanks to the quartet of championships.
He remains the only coach to win four NFL championships.
"[Noll] was not a pizzazz guy. He knew where he was, where he was going and where he wanted to go and how to do it," Art Rooney Jr., son of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., told the Tribune-Review. "He had a very, very strong moral compass. ... My dad respected that."
Following 23 seasons with the Steelers franchise, Noll retired in 1991. Bill Cowher took over the reins of what was, thanks to Noll's influence, one of the league's premier jobs. Cowher proceeded to take Pittsburgh to six consecutive postseasons, including one trip to the Super Bowl.
Still, neither he nor any coach since has been able to replicate Noll's incredible success. Bill Belichick, with three titles in four years for the Patriots, came closest. Dallas also won three championships over a four-year stretch (1992-95), two under Jimmy Johnson and one under Barry Switzer. San Francisco won five crowns from 1981-94, the first three credited to Bill Walsh and the final two to George Seifert.
All followed in Noll's footsteps en route to the mountaintop.
Noll spent seven seasons in the league as a player, too, all with Cleveland after being selected in the 20th round of the 1953 draft. From there, he became an assistant coach with the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, before moving to Baltimore's staff and eventually on to Pittsburgh.
Tony Dungy served as an assistant under Noll from 1981-88, and he later went on to capture his own Super Bowl title with the Colts. Another Noll disciple, John Fox, had a shot at a championship of his own this past season with the Broncos, only to fall one win short. "I think he’s the greatest guy I’ve ever been around," Fox told the Steelers' website of Noll prior to Super Bowl XLVIII. "He was very calm, very technique- and fundamental-oriented. He was not a screamer. He wasn’t up or down. I think his biggest thing is that he was the same guy every day. He was not an ego guy like, ‘Look what I’m doing.’ He was a great mentor, I know that."