On This Date in Sports January 27, 1969: A Noll Beginning

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The Pittsburgh Steelers hire Chuck Noll to be their new head coach. Noll who had played for the Cleveland Browns under Paul Brown in the 1950s had previously worked as a Defensive Coordinator with the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Colts. The 37-year old was the Steelers second choice after being turned down by Penn State coach Joe Paterno. He would lead the Steelers for the next 23 seasons.

Chuck Noll was born on January 5, 1932, in Cleveland, Ohio. Recruited by Notre Dame, Noll was forced to transfer to Dayton, after Frank Lahey became concerned with epileptic seizures. A two-way player who played offensive line and linebacker, Chuck Noll was regarded as one of the smartest players at the time due to his grasp of the game on both sides of the ball. Drafted in the 20th round of the 1952 draft, Noll played with the Cleveland Browns for eight seasons. At the time he would often come into the game to relay the call from Brown on the sideline to Otto Graham at quarterback.

After retiring, Chuck Noll took a job on Sid Gilman’s staff with the Los Angeles Chargers, in the AFL’s inaugural season in 1960. As the Chargers moved to San Diego, he was promoted to Defensive Coordinator, helping the Chargers play in the AFL Championship Game three times in the first four seasons, finally winning in 1963. After the 1965 season, he left the Chargers to go to the NFL’s Baltimore Colts to serve as the Defensive Coordinator and secondary coach for Don Shula.

As the Sixties came to a close, the Pittsburgh Steelers were still looking for answers. A member of the NFL since 1933, they had never won a playoff game, and their winning seasons were few and far between. The Steelers posted a 2-11-1 record under Bill Austin in 1968. In three seasons with Austin as head coach, the Steelers posted a record of 11-28-3. After Austin was fired, the Steelers pursued Joe Paterno, the head coach at Penn State. However, Paterno preferred the chance to coach in college. Don Shula would call Steelers Owner Art Rooney, recommending Chuck Noll to get his chance to be a head coach after helping the Colts get to Super Bowl III.

Chuck Noll did not get off to a great start in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers posted a 1-13 record in 1969 before being one of three teams moved to the AFC after the merger was completed in 1970. Finishing with the worst record in the NFL helped the Steelers get the first overall pick to choose Terry Bradshaw. Like Noll, Bradshaw had a slow start with the Steelers, but in 1972 the team began to turn the corner as the Steelers won their first playoff game and made it to the AFC Championship Game.

Two years later the Steelers reached the promised land, winning Super Bowl IX. The Steelers would repeat a year later, as they won the Lombardi Trophy four times in a six-year period with Chuck Noll setting a record that stood for nearly 40 years as the most successful coach in the history of the Super Bowl. The Steelers concluded the decade as the team of the seventies, with Chuck Noll becoming recognized as one of the best coaches in the NFL.


The next decade would see a slight decline for Pittsburgh as the Hall of Famers that made the dynasty possible retired. Though the Steelers would not fade as Chuck Noll, kept them in contention most seasons, with another appearance in the AFC Championship Game in 1984. However, over the next seven seasons, the Steelers made just one playoff appearance in 1989. Following a disappointing 7-9 season in 1991, Chuck Noll decided to step down, ending a 23-year coaching reign with a record of 193-148-1, with a 16-8 record in the playoffs. Noll would be elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 1993. The last 20 years of his life he would spend as an adviser with the Steelers, succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease in 2013.

The Steelers meanwhile have been one of the NFL’s most consistent franchises, as they have had just three coaches, in the last half-century, with Bill Cowher replacing Noll in 1992. Cowher would lead the Steelers until 2006 when he was replaced by Mike Tomlin, who has coached the Steelers since 2007.