From the PG Archives: The Curtain Falls
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This story from the Post-Gazette archives was first published on December 27, 1991.
Chuck Noll retired yesterday after 23 years as the Steelers' coach, holding an emotional news conference that left one question unanswered:
Ten days before his 60th birthday, Noll said he decided only yesterday morning to retire because "39 years in professional football is a goodly time."
He said he did not come to his decision easily and that he recently had gone trhough an up-and-down process about it.
But when he was asked if he would rule out coaching again, he paused, then said, "probably. One day at a time."
Noll, the only man to coach four Super Bowl champions, strode into the Steelers' offices at Three Rivers Stadium a few minutes after 10 a.m. for his scheduled meeting with Steeler President Dan Rooney.
They talked for about 45 minutes and Rooney told Noll that he wanted him back. Before Rooney could tell him about changes he wanted to make in the coaching staff and, perhaps, the front office, Noll told Rooney he had decided to retire.
Rooney had planned to tell Noll that he must fire offensive coordinator Joe Walton and maybe make a few more changes on his coaching staff. A source close to Noll said Rooney also wanted to take away some of the control Noll had over the football operation.
Noll had been dropping hints for the past three weeks that he had a decision to make at the end of the season, but would never say why. At one point, he said he had not lost his desire to coach.
He said yesterday that a successful season in 1991 probably would not have changed his mind about retiring.
"It would have been great to have had 10 victories and been in the playoffs and have gone all the way and then said, 'Goodbye,' but it didn't work out that way."
He said he was not angry and "for you investigative reporters, there's no challenge to find a reason.
Whatever the reasons, an era ended yesterday. Noll's final record was 209-156-1, a .568 winning percentage in all games. His most important winning percentage came in Super Bowls, where he batted .1000 as the Steelers won them in the seasons of 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979.
But Noll was never one for looking back, and he did not do much of that yesterday.
"Reminisce?" he said to a question. "When we get in rocking chairs, we'll probably do that. There are things to be done, and I'm sure I'll be busy from that standpoint. And I'll miss all the guys, I'll miss the training camps. I'll miss the season. That's going to be tough, but I'm sure you'll help me."
Rooney announced that Noll would stay with the organization, but Noll made it clear it would not be an active role.
"I don't want to get in the way."
Tom Donahoe, the Steelers director of football development, will lead the search for a new head coach, beginning immediately.
Noll and Rooney conducted their joint news conference at 1:05 p.m., and it was televised live in Pittsburgh. Noll ended it 20 minutes later when he seemed near tears.
"You've got enough now," he told reporters, "before it gets tougher."
While Rooney read from a statement to open the press conference, Noll sat beside him with his hand on his forehead shielding his face and looking down.
Moments earlier, Noll had been chatting amiably with several reporters in the Steelers' lunchroom. He poured coffee for them and discussed various topics, football not among them.
He laughed and seemed to be in a good mood. But the mood turned somber as it came time for the press conference.
Rooney opened by reading a handwritten statement, saying Noll would remain a part of the team.
"It has been a wonderful 23 years. Chuck is a great man, and he hasn't changed from day one. He brought dignity and integrity to the coaching profession and that, even more than four Super Bowls, is what it means to be a Steeler. . .
"He reainks with the great coaches of the game, I always liked to compare him with Amos Alonzo Stagg. He ranks up there with George Halas, Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau. . .
"The greatest compliment that I know is what my wife said a long time ago, "If anything happens to us, I would like Chuck Noll to raise my kids."
Noll then thanked everyone.
"You know, it's much easier coming in than going out," said the man the Steelers hired on Jan. 27, 1969 when he was 37. "The emotions that build up and then attachments that build up over 23 years are tough to, I guess, sever. . .
"Thank you. I mean this is to everybody. The city of Pittsburgh, to the coaches that I've been associated with through the years, to the players. Especially to the players, because those are the guys that make it happen on the field, those are the guys that meant our success, and it's been great memories and a real upbeat experience for me and my family."
Noll laughed when he was asked what he would do now.
"That's the $64,000 question. . .I put in for a government program so I could re-educate myself, so I could do something, but I don't think it's going to come through.
"I think after 39 years in it I have to step back and see what the flowers smell like for a little bit."
Asked if coaching burnout caused him to retire, Noll quipped: "Natural death."
"I can remember," he added, "running laps when I was in college, saying, 'What am I doing out here? This is terrible.' And then the next minute, 'This is the greatest thing that ever happened.'
"That's life. Right now, I'm not planning on coaching any more, although I've been accused of coaching all my life."
He was once asked how he would like to be remembered: "Don't leave anything on the beach but your footprints. I'm not big on history. Who is that masked man?"
Two minutes after the news conference ended, Noll pulled on his black overcoat and walked briskly out the front door, jumped in his car and was gone.
He never once glanced at the four Super Bowl trophies in the lobby as he passed within feet of them. They are his footprints.
First Published October 21, 2007 1:16 am