He watches from a distance, pleased with what he sees but tactfully detached so as not to distract his successor. His advice is neither sought nor offered.
Fifteen years after he became the first - and only - coach in NFL history to win four Super Bowls, and three years after retirement, Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll is content to be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ emperor emeritus.
He talks occasionally with coach Bill Cowher, who is on the verge of returning the Steelers to the Super Bowl, but he sees no need to offer any guidance or serve as a high-level consultant.
For Noll, now 63 and three years into a happy retirement, there is life after football. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is life after Chuck Noll.
“Bill’s doing great,” Noll said on one of his infrequent visits to Three Rivers Stadium. “The results speak for themselves. I enjoy watching and cheering for them.”
Chuck Noll, the cheerleader? The image of the businesslike Noll pacing the Steelers’ sidelines as the coach of perhaps the greatest team in NFL history is so vivid and unshakable, it’s difficult to envision him sitting in a private box, cheering like a fan.
But there he was last Saturday, wearing a Bear Bryant-like hound’s tooth hat and visibly enjoying the Steelers’ playoff victory over the Cleveland Browns, he hometown team Noll played for as an undersized but undaunted offensive guard in the 1950s.
“We beat those smooth-talking Dawgs,” Noll said with a laugh. “I liked that. Watching all of those towels going, it was something.”
Maybe it’s a case of once an offensive lineman, always an offensive lineman, but he most enjoyed a dominating Steelers offensive line that includes two lowround choices drafted during his regime, 10th-rounder John Jackson and 11th-rounder Justin Strzelczyk.
“They’ve got guys that get excited by a big game, and we had a bunch of those,” said Noll, given the nickname of The Emperor during the Steelers’ Super Bowl reign. “Talking with Bill, he said they’re like that. They get the challenge and they get excited, that’s a big thing.”
Noll doesn’t twirl a Terrible Towel, but he is the proud owner of a T-shirt tossed him by a fan. It reads: “January 29, 1995,” the date of the Super Bowl, on the front and “We Believe” on the back.
Noll, who spends most of the winter at his new home in Hilton Head, S.C., is uncertain if he will attend today’s Chargers-Steelers AFC title game, despite his ties to both teams.
Does Noll, listed as an adviser on the official Steelers directory, get the urge to watch film again, and offer his analysis to Cowher?
“No,” he said. “Like I said before, 39 training camps (as a player and coach) was enough.”
He shuttles between Pittsburgh, where he keeps a condo, and Hilton Head, and skippering a 39-foot trawler now docked in Palm Coast, Fla. If the Steelers make the Super Bowl, he plans to cruise to Miami for the game.
From a distance, of course. Just like the 1970s, Chuck Noll’s ship has come in.
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