The Steelers and St. Vincent College yesterday dedicated Chuck Noll Field in honor of the franchise’s most successful coach.
LATROBE – Dick Hoak reported to St. Vincent College in August of 1969 to play for his fourth coach with the Steelers. Hoak was sick of losing and didn’t figure the new coach, Chuck Noll, was going to change that aspect of his life. But then the team practiced.
“Right way I could tell it was going to be different,” said Hoak. “Every person on his last legs wasn’t going to be coming through Pittsburgh anymore. That’s what it used to be. It used to be the last stop was here, but that was over when he got here. He had a plan whereas before that some of those guys I played for didn’t have a plan. Coach Noll had a plan and he was going to follow it.”
Could Hoak envision right away that Noll would be successful?
“No question. Yes.”
Five rings later, Hoak was on hand for the dedication of Chuck Noll Field at St. Vincent College.
Hoak either played or coached in 742 of the franchise’s 1,059 games, and it was Noll who sparked his career. “He taught me everything I knew about coaching,” Hoak said. “Everything I learned from him. He was just a great man.”
Noll could not attend the ceremony Thursday evening due to illness, but he sent two messages.
“His message was, ‘Keep it short,” said the school’s Archabbot Douglas Nowicki.
And John Rooney, son of team chairman Dan Rooney, had the other message.
“I spoke to Mrs. Noll last week and the first words out of her mouth were, ‘It’s a very short speech that I have to give,’” Rooney said. “Chuck’s words are very to the point. I’ll start with this statement:
“St. Vincent has been a very special place for the Steelers since 1968. The great facilities, the hospitality, and the people made it ideal for us to prepare for the football season. It is the perfect summer home. The success we have enjoyed started here. We worked hard here but we also had a lot of fun. I personally have very pleasant memories of St. Vincent. The highlight was when I had the opportunity to conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra here. I’m very touched and appreciative of this honor. Thank you very much.”’
Noll coached the Steelers from 1969 to 1991 and led the team to four Super Bowls. He conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony at a free, outdoor concert in tribute to Art Rooney Sr. on Aug. 9, 1989. Noll led the symphony through John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” in front of more than 10,000 people. That was the estimated crowd on hand Thursday for the dedication of Chuck Noll Field.
“Thirty-eight years ago on this field,” said team president Art Rooney II,
“Chuck Noll began a journey that changed the course of the Steelers franchise. Prior to Chuck’s arrival, the Steelers were known mostly as a tough team that always found a way to lose. I was here in camp that first year, and those of us who’d been around the old Steeler way, quickly recognized that things were going to change under Chuck Noll. He brought a new discipline and a commitment to winning that we were not accustomed to.
“To be honest, my first feelings about Chuck Noll, and I think the feelings of most of the players who were in camp that year, was fear. Chuck did not tolerate anything less from the people around him than the same fierce commitment to winning that he had; no distractions, no wavering from the path that led to winning a championship. Of course, that first camp at St. Vincent, fear began to turn to respect and then to a shared commitment and to a common bond. But still, in that summer of 1969, none of us knew there would be 23 more years of Chuck’s commitment to winning every summer. Chuck’s successor, Bill Cowher, often remarked we have high standards around here. Chuck Noll set those standards.
“As a coach, Chuck did not waste many words. He was not given to long pre-game pep talks. He believed that the preparations that took place on the practice fields were the key to victory. That is why it is so fitting that we stand here this evening and dedicate and bless this field in Chuck’s name. I know Chuck wishes he could be here with his this evening, but I know he will enjoy hearing about this evening’s event.”
Nowicki shared some of Noll’s memorable comments that were part of Tony Dungy’s autobiography, “Quiet Strength”:
“Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary, but because they do ordinary things better than anyone else.”
“I would rather play well and lose than play poorly and win.”
“Leaving the game plan is a sign of panic, and panic is not our game plan.”
“Football is not your life’s work.”
“Some coaches pray for wisdom, I pray for 260-pound tackles. They’ll give me plenty of wisdom.”
2 August 2007