Noll nostalgia not completely accurate
PITTSBURGH – Chuck Noll’s passing brought the expected wave of tributes and reminiscences of a great era in Pittsburgh Steelers’ history.
As is often the case, some of them were misguided.
Two themes that recurred didn’t really fit. One, some people were too anxious to give Noll an inordinate amount of credit for assembling the talent that won four Super Bowls. Secondly, some overestimated the impact of the Steelers’ success on a city that was struggling.
Noll was part of the process – and an important part – of drafting players. He insisted on having input, and that’s the way the Steelers ran their organization.
But giving him too much credit for those decisions neglects the hard work of a scouting department that was second to none in NFL history.
Art Rooney Jr. (Dan Rooney’s brother), Bill Nunn and Dick Haley ran that personnel department, and they were state of the art through the six drafts (1969-74) that turned the Steelers into a dynasty.
Nunn in particular used his network of contacts at minority-based colleges to find players like L.C. Greenwood and John Stallworth, who were under the radar for a lot of NFL teams.
Jack Butler’s BLESTO scouting combine also contributed greatly to the Steelers’ success.
Noll did plenty of hands-on scouting at places like the Senior Bowl, but the heavy lifting was done by the scouts, who followed players during the season and assembled information on them by talking to their college coaches during the year.
That’s the way it is for any NFL team. The head coach simply doesn’t have the time to scout during the season.
The Steelers’ success represented some fortuitous timing for Pittsburgh. The football team was winning just as the area was losing. The steel industry was collapsing, and people were losing jobs. That led to a loss of population.
One of the reasons the Steelers have a national fan base is so many people left Pittsburgh in the 1970s, but maintained their loyalty to the hometown team.
The Steelers’ success was undoubtedly a feel good for people who had lost jobs and were either unemployed or working for a much smaller wage. But as much as they enjoyed watching the games on Sunday, Monday brought them back to reality.
The Steelers won, but their struggles continued. Sports represent a great diversion, but they don’t really solve any problems.
Meanwhile, Noll remained humble until the very end.
The paid obituary placed in the newspapers by his family covered all the basics.
However, there was no mention of his career or his accomplishments.
Someone who didn’t know better might think that Noll was just another guy. That’s just the way he liked things.
Mehno can be reached at email@example.com