Chuck Noll is identified with Pittsburgh, but he’s every bit a part of Cleveland -- and Cleveland is part of him.
Noll grew up on Cleveland’s East Side. He learned from Paul Brown. His principles and beliefs and outlook were forged from Cleveland and Brown, and one of his first coaching jobs in the NFL was with Don Shula, who grew up and went to college outside Cleveland.
Noll was a coach’s coach.
A leader, a teacher, the perfect combination of humility and aggressiveness. Like Brown, his story and his actions and his approach could serve as an example to every coach at every level.
He epitomized preparation and balance. He worked hard and worked well, but ate dinner every night with his wife and family. He would probably look at today’s generation of sleep-in-the-office guys and smirk, if he were to smirk. Noll wouldn’t judge, he would just do it his way. Successfully.
Noll grew up on the East side, worked his way through Benedictine High School by earning 55 cents an hour at a Cleveland meat market after school. He knew what it meant to get an education. He never forgot Benedictine as he advanced, sending notes to legendary coach Augie Bossu and reaching out whenever he could.
Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer relates a story of Noll visiting Joe Rufus, his former high school coach, in the hospital the morning of a Browns-Steelers game in Cleveland. Rufus asked what he was doing there the day of a game, and Noll told him he had already done his work.
Preparation was his hallmark.
Noll played for Brown, was one of Brown’s messenger guards. Brown said he didn’t even have to tell Noll the plays; he knew them ahead of time. Preparation.
Brown’s style and approach rubbed off on Noll, who coached with the same attention to principle and discipline as Brown. He prided himself on being a teacher.
He was a great coach.
He was a father.
He was a husband.
He went to the opera and enjoyed fine wine.
His teams were aggressive and nasty. They pushed the envelope. But they were also a part of a city’s culture and part of a city’s fiber. He cemented a relationship between team and city that exists today.
San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich has been oft-quoted as saying he only drafts guys who have “gotten over themselves.”
Noll never had to get over himself. He understood himself, his team and life before he ever coached a game.
He belongs among the NFL elite when coaches are discussed, and he gained his foundation in Cleveland, from Brown, the greatest of them all.