Former Pittsburgh Steeler coach, Chuck Noll, passed away June 13, 2014. He certainly was a leader.
When he accepted the Steeler head coaching position in 1969, they were the worst franchise in the NFL. In the previous 34 seasons, they had no championships and only a single playoff appearance.
In his first year they won one game and lost thirteen. The next two years were losing seasons. To say the least, success was not immediate.
But his consistent teaching and preparation led the Steelers to four Super Bowl championships, the most of any coach in the history of the NFL. It is Chuck Noll, not Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, nor George Halas who led his team to four Super Bowl championships.
“Mean Joe” Greene, one of his many Hall of Fame players, said of his leadership, “I know of no one like him before and have never met anybody like him since. There was no hyperbole about him. None at all.”
Those who played for him reiterated that he was a man of few words who never wanted the spotlight on him. Although he could have capitalized on his Super Bowl fame by making commercials and taking endorsements, he made only one commercial in his career and that was for a friend whom he wanted to help.
It was not about him, but it was about the two things he did best – teaching and preparing.
Tony Dungy, another great coach who played safety for him said this about Noll, “He was a teacher first and foremost.” Two of his mantras that his players heard often regarding his teaching were, “Whatever it takes” and “Back to the basics.”
Like all great teachers, he kept things simple. His teaching emphasized the fundamentals, the basics. The first 30 minutes of every practice were spent on blocking and tackling.
The late Bill Gleason, an outstanding Chicago basketball coach and a dear friend, was the first person to teach me the “5 P’s – Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” Keeping things simple, I believe the hallmark of great teaching has always been and always will be preparation.
Noll showed his preparation in two ways. The first was the draft. Through meticulous preparation, he was able to spot talent. His teams were composed of numerous Hall of Famers, almost all acquired through the draft.
Secondly, his preparation showed itself in his teams’ readiness to play. John Clayton, who covered his Steeler teams and is a current ESPN expert on the NFL, said his teams were “the most prepared teams I ever witnessed. His preparation was immaculate.”
It is no wonder why Art Rooney, Jr., one of the Steeler owners, said, “Chuck Noll is the best thing to happen to the Rooney’s since they got on the boat in Ireland.”
Noll left a legacy for leaders to reflect on. It’s not about you; you have to teach; and preparation is preeminent.