There was an interesting piece on former Steelers coach Chuck Noll on ESPN.com this week.
Since the Steelers are appearing in their seventh Super Bowl in a little more than seven days, it is fitting someone tries to talk with the one coach that has four rings.
Noll was not available, as it indicates in the story. He seemingly has moved on from football and is concentrating on his other interests during his retirement.
I agree Noll is one of the most underrated football coaches of all time. I believe he is overlooked because he had nine Hall of Famers on his teams in the late 1970s, when he won four titles in six years. Noll had to take all that talent and point it in the right direction. It's easy to have a lot of talent and still lose.
But I wonder whether the Steelers of that era could have been better. My father, a long-time Steelers season ticket holder and witness to the Immaculate Reception, second-guesses Noll all the time. He argues the Steelers could have won the Super Bowl in 1976, the year most experts believe the Steel Curtain defense was at its best.
Running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier got injured in the divisional playoffs when the game was over. In the AFC Championship, the Steelers couldn't handle the Raiders with no running game. My dad argues, the team should not have been in a position to loose two starting running backs.
I wonder why Noll could not put together another great team after that six-year stretch. Of course, no one could expect him to draft another nine Hall of Famers. But the Steelers never competed on that high a level again during his tenure, appearing in only one AFC Championship after 1980 -- a loss to the Miami Dolphins in 1984.
I'm really nit-picking what is a great legacy. I could make similar arguments about the legacy of Bill Cowher, Noll's successor. He made only two Super Bowl appearances despite six AFC Championship appearances. And five of those games were at home.
Noll was a great coach, no question. One of the best ever. He was not the offensive genius like Bill Walsh. He also wasn't flamboyant like Bill Parcells or Mike Ditka. Noll was a great judge of talent. And maybe most important, he was exactly what that team needed. He determined how the Steelers could play their best and then got out of the way. He wanted the focus on the players.