CINCINNATI -- A son of Western Pennsylvania, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis' most formative football years were spent watching Chuck Noll's Pittsburgh Steelers defenses intimidate opponents as they romped to four Super Bowls.
Friday night, at his Pittsburgh-area home, Noll, the Steelers' legendary Hall of Fame coach, died of natural causes at the age of 82.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Art Rooney Jr., the oldest son of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., said Noll was "the best thing to happen to the Rooneys since they got on the boat in Ireland."
Lewis, who spent four years on Pittsburgh's staff just after Noll retired in 1991, understands perfectly why Noll was so revered by the Rooneys and beloved not only among Terrible Towel wavers, but among many around football, too.
"Obviously, the thing Coach Noll did was he set a direction," Lewis said. "They had a plan. They drafted for the plan. They developed for the plan very effectively and won championships. That's the key element. He had a great temperament about him. He was a very physical person and he had physical football teams. He was demanding as a football coach, and you learn from that. When I went there to coach in '92, they were a hard-working football team."
After landing the Pittsburgh head-coaching gig in 1969, Noll's Steelers won Super Bowls in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979. His was the hand behind the team's vaunted "Steel Curtain" defense. Around that same time, Lewis was graduating from high school and leaving home for Idaho State where he lettered three years.
"They had big, tough linemen there," Lewis said. "They had a defense that would be smothering, so you want to have that. You want to have big production from your wideouts and the quarterback's got to be able to throw the ball effectively."
Lewis also has had his share of physical defensive lines during his 11 seasons in Cincinnati. He hopes this season that his receivers can produce for his quarterback. Andy Dalton may not be Terry Bradshaw, but Lewis' expectation is just like Noll's: that his starting signal-caller will throw the ball in spots that will allow everyone else around him to execute at a high level.
"The fundamentals of their football team were very important," Lewis said. "And that's being able to score productively by passing the ball, running the ball effectively to win the games and play great defense."
Before his work with the Steelers more than 20 years ago, Lewis said he never really knew Noll, except for getting paired with him in celebrity golf outings in Pittsburgh.
"It was great," Lewis said, grinning. "The other people in the group, they had the chance to play with Chuck Noll. But unfortunately, they got Marvin Lewis in the group, too.
"The greatest part of it was that these guys would want Coach Noll to share stories about football, and Coach Noll would be talking about the leaves on the trees or the beer that he made last month or whatever wine. The kind of things that were beyond football. The only thing he ever said relating to sports and competitiveness was when the guys would leave the last putt for him and he would say, 'Oh, there's no pressure.' His temperament about competition was great."