Chuck Noll was the Pittsburgh Steelers most successful coach, but the Rooneys almost missed out when they came to replace Bill Austin in 1969.
The previous year, Austin coached the Steelers to just two victories and Art Rooney decided it was time to move on and not renew his contract. Austin’s three years as head coach produced eleven wins with twenty-eight defeats. Bizarrely, the Steelers manage to play out a tie in each of his three seasons.
Since the time in 1933 when Rooney put a franchise in Pittsburgh, the Steelers had resided in the NFL wilderness. The signing of their replacement for Austin changed that and saw them rise out of the doldrums and become the power house football team we all love.
Fortunately for Steeler fans, Dan Rooney was involving himself more and more in the running of the organization and he was the catalyst for morphing the “Same Old Steelers” into world champions.
Chuck Noll was the defensive coordinator of a Baltimore Colts team that went 13-1 before being upset in Super Bowl III by “Broadway” Joe Namath and the Jets.
At the same time as the Steelers were looking for a new head coach, so were the Boston Patriots and the Buffalo Bills and Noll’s name was put in the frame for both posts. When the Bills vacancy was filled by John Rauch, the Baltimore Evening Sun wondered if Noll, the brains behind the great Colts defense, would go to Oakland?
The newspaper recognized Noll’s football aptitude, noting him as an outstanding head coach prospect who would find a job somewhere.
Allegedly, Rauch was offered the Steelers job by Art Rooney, but he declined having already agreed to sign with the Bills.
Noll made the final list of five for the Patriots, but there was no mention in Pittsburgh of the possibility of him becoming the Steelers coach. Penn State’s Joe Paterno turned the position down and Indiana University’s Johnny Pont removed himself from consideration.
Two former Steelers players were linked with the vacancy. Ernie Stautner, an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys and Nick Skorich, who had previously been an assistant with the Steelers before becoming head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Sunday January 26 edition of the Pittsburgh Press ran a sports headline suggesting that “Skorich Stock Soars As Steeler Prospect.” The article indicated that Skorich’s qualifications were so well known to the Rooneys that their silence did not indicate any lack of interest. The newspaper reasoned the Rooney’s regard for their former player and aide was so great that they scarcely would tantalize him with an interview and later turn him down.
The next day the front page had an insert with Chuck Noll’s photo and confirmation he was the Steelers new head coach. Within twenty-four hours, Noll had been elevated from a relatively unknown assistant coach to headline news in Pittsburgh.
In Dan Rooney’s book, “My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL,” Rooney describes meeting Noll the day after the Super Bowl and how much he was impressed by the coach. Two further meetings confirmed to Rooney that Noll was their man and so it proved.
Their meetings went unnoticed by the press enabling the Rooneys to come to a decision without any pressure. Having finally got the right man, the Rooneys allowed Noll the time and encouragement to build a team through the draft and produce a team that would become the first to win three, then four Super Bowls.
Rauch only lasted two years with the Bills. Stautner eventually became the head coach of the Frankfurt Galaxy in 1995 and Skorich was named the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1971 for four years.
Chuck Noll coached the Steelers for twenty three years compiling a 209-156-1 record, which at the time ranked him fifth in all-time NFL victories. On his retirement, Noll acknowledged, “It’s much easier coming in than going out. The emotions and attachments that build up over 23 years are tough to sever.”