ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.
In 1969, Chuck Noll took over a Pittsburgh Steelers team that had never won a title of any kind. By the time he left 23 seasons later, the Steelers had become one of the NFL's greatest dynasties, with four Super Bowl wins.
Noll's Steelers won nine AFC Central titles in all, and their four championships came in a six-year period, spanning the 1974 through 1979 seasons. The only coach to win four Super Bowls, Noll was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
Starting during his playing days, Noll was groomed by some of the greatest coaches in NFL history. The Cleveland Browns selected him out of Dayton in the 1953 draft, giving him a chance to win two NFL championships while playing offensive line and linebacker for seven seasons under Paul Brown.
Noll got his start in coaching in 1960, the year after he finished his playing career, as a defensive assistant under Sid Gillman with the AFL's Los Angeles Chargers. He followed the franchise to San Diego and worked with Gillman fox six seasons, then moved to Don Shula's staff with the Baltimore Colts in 1966 before landing his first -- and only -- head-coaching job three years later.
Noll had almost become Patriots' head coach days before the Steelers hired him in 1969. Boston owner Billy Sullivan's two finalists were Noll and New York Jets assistant Clive Rush. Since the Jets had just defeated the Colts in Super Bowl III, Sullivan opted for Rush. The Patriots went 5-16 under Rush, who was gone after a 1-6 start in 1970.
Noll believed in building through the draft and emphasizing defense. Pittsburgh's 1974 draft, which featured four future Hall of Famers -- Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster -- among the team's first five picks, is widely acknowledged as the best in NFL history. The Steelers' "Steel Curtain" was one of the most feared defenses of the 1970s.
Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Lambert, Swann and Stallworth played their entire careers under Noll. Coaches who worked under Noll include Tony Dungy, John Fox and Bud Carson.
-- Shawna Seed
NOLL THROUGH THE EYES OF A PLAYER: MEL BLOUNT
The big thing with Chuck Noll was how consistent he was dealing with players. As a player, you always knew what to do and when to do it. He was always consistent with how he dealt with people. It didn't matter if you came from Penn State or Florida A&M or whether you were from USC or Southern University.
I don't see current coaches dealing with players the way he did. It's a different game now, and I see a lot of coaches getting caught up in the media with the way they deal with players. You see it on the sidelines. Chuck Noll was always consistent. You wouldn't see him give a high five if you made a great play or get in your face if you made a bad play. I guess that would make Chuck Noll a dinosaur now.
His pregame speeches were usually him talking about the game plan and how we had to use our fundamentals. But I was talking to Joe Greene about this the other day. The one pregame we never forgot was before our playoff game against the Oakland Raiders in 1974.
The week before, the Raiders beat the Miami Dolphins. Somebody saw that John Madden said the two best teams in football played that week and that was the Super Bowl. Chuck came in and said we were going out there and were going to win this game. He said we have the best team. We all looked around and said, "Wow." We had never seen that from Chuck. We went out there, won the game and went on to win our first Super Bowl.
-- Former Steelers defensive back and Hall of Famer Mel Blount, as told to John Clayton
ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.