Chuck Noll graduated from the University of Dayton 61 years ago, yet he’s so important to the football program that the first thing visitors to the football office at the Frericks Center see is a display honoring him and Jon Gruden, the two Super Bowl-winning coaches to come from UD.
“Anyone that’s ever been involved in football, seeing it kind of raises the hair on the back of your neck,” said former UD head coach Mike Kelly, now an assistant vice president for athletics.
Noll, who led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl championships, died Friday at age 82 at his home in Sewickley, Pa. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Noll suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, a heart ailment and back problems.
Noll, a graduate of Cleveland Benedictine High School, played offensive guard and linebacker for the Flyers. Dayton finished 7-3 in 1952, his senior year, and played in the Salad Bowl in Phoenix.
A charter member of the UD Hall of Fame when he was inducted in 1962, Noll played guard for the Cleveland Browns under coach Paul Brown, then took up coaching. He retired as Steelers coach in 1992 and earned a Doctor of Human Letters honorary degree from UD that year. A year later, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He was very, very well respected, not only as a football player, but as a student,” Kelly said. “He was an outstanding student. The thing I appreciated as I closed my career, when I look back on that era, that group, those players are so close and stayed so close in their later years.”
UD’s current head coach Rick Chamberlin met Noll once in the 1990s at a golf outing, which raised money for the program.
“I was in the pro shop, and there he was,” Chamberlin said. “I went over and introduced myself and just expressed my admiration for him as a football coach.”
Chamberlin remembers the Steel Curtain teams of the 1970s well because he grew up a Browns fan and saw his team lose to Noll many times.
“They were so prepared,” Chamberlin said. “They executed so well. They played tough football, just physical football. They just played with so much enthusiasm. It really looked like a college team out there.”
Kelly said the key to Noll’s success was his ability to stay on task.
“I don’t think he was a real flamboyant individual,” Kelly said. “He knew who he was. He stayed within his core beliefs.”