I am a little shocked by this, and sad. My condolences and my heart goes out to Marianne. She’s a great lady. These are times when we reflect on all the great memories and the great times that we had. And there’s no doubt that these memories that we had, probably people consider them the best of times in pro football. That goes for Chuck, the organization and the team he put together.
I am reflecting back on when I heard the news. I’m shocked. I think the greatest tribute that someone can pay is when you start talking about them. Chuck always said the success of his players will be in the upbringing of their kids, and I didn’t know what that meant. But I think it was the impact of who they are as people and their values, and how that transfers to the impact that they have on their kids. I found myself doing this, giving Chuck’s “Nollisms” on life and how that affected us when we were playing, the basics, the fundamentals, giving 100 percent. You look back at those people who touched you, and Chuck was one of those kinds of people who touched you. Whether you had a close relationship with him or a distant relationship, he had an impact on our lives, and it was a positive impact. It changed how we thought and how we approached things, and maybe changed the expectations we had about ourselves. That was Chuck’s biggest legacy. If you look back on that group of people he had and their lives thereafter, the commitments they made, the service they provided to their communities and in raising their families, that’s probably the biggest tribute you can pay another person.
It’s certainly sad for Marianne and Chris to lose a husband and a father. In Marianne’s case, Chuck was her best friend. There is nothing sadder. And you start thinking about Chuck and when all of the wonderful things that come to mind, you realize he’s in heaven and spending eternity in peace. That’s very refreshing. I’m proud to have played for him. It was a great honor. My relationship wasn’t good, as you well know, but he made me understand my job responsibilities, because I had to grow up. I came out of an environment with nothing but pats on the back and love. With him it was nowhere near that. I had to go through all the developments emotionally of how to deal with it. He was a tough coach to me, and I spent more time with him than anybody, so I know. I learned how to be mentally tough with him, and for that I can never say thank you enough, because that got me through divorces, Super Bowls, and those times when I had bad moments in big games. He made me mentally strong, which I wasn’t. And he instilled in me a great work ethic. I had a good work ethic, but preparation was paramount with him, so we spent a lot of time going through preparations for the games. He was an amazing guy. I watched him more than he watched me (laughs). I had a great amount of fear for him. He’s kind of like a father from whom you want approval and you don’t quite get it, and in the advent of that journey you work harder and harder, you try to get better and better, and then when it’s all said and done he says, “Thank you. You were a great quarterback.” And you say, “Wow!” He was different than anybody I had ever been around and played for. He was smart, really smart. His game plans were spot on. He figured out the 3-4 blitzing schemes. He figured out the flex. He was just an amazing football mind. I would say I know I more about defenses than I do offenses because that’s what he taught me. He taught me defenses. If you know defenses you can run offenses.
He was a father figure, with me being a young African-American growing up in the south and losing my father early in my college career. My father died during my freshman year of college. Just being young and immature, Chuck was a stabilizer. He was a stabilizing figure in my life. He was a great mentor and a great leader. He was special. People underestimate, or maybe they don’t really know, Chuck’s leadership skills. He was a great leader because he was consistent. He was the kind of guy where whatever day you saw him he was the same guy. I try to be that working with my employees and the children. The thing I try to do and the thing I have learned from Chuck is the value of just being consistent and being who you are, not trying to be something you are not. I know what he brought to the Steelers was not only pride but stability and a vision. That vision was to be winners.
I always wanted to know that he thought I did well. One of the things that he would always do after the game when we would review the game, he would make comments on who played well in the game and how we did overall as a team, but who did well. It was always special to me when he said John Stallworth did something well. Comments and compliments from Chuck never came easy, but when he said something it was very special. The relationship we had, there wasn’t a whole lot of conversation going on, but I thought it was special. I always viewed him as maybe a father figure, I would say. I went through a lot of things as a player, but I always thought that Chuck was there for me. We did have some personal conversations when some issues that came up were dear to me. He never brushed them off. I think he deeply considered what I was feeling and what I was going through, and he tried his best to make that easy. That made the relationship special. He had 40, 50, 60 players to deal with, but I always thought he was knowledgeable and considerate of what was going on in the life of John Stallworth. One of the lessons I learned from him was that you’ve never arrived, that you never get to the point where you are the best that you can be, and you should admit you are always striving to be better and to get better in whatever it was – as a football player, as a father, as a business person, as someone who was active in the community. You could always get better at something. Don’t just settle for where you are. I think I carry that more than anything. You can always be better. You’ve never arrived.
Chuck was just the ultimate leader. He had truth and belief in what he was saying, and over time all of those things he said were validated, the things about winning football games and being a solid citizen. I have a lot of memories. The one that just always comes to mind is when we were preparing to go play the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game in 1974. The statements that he made that week, it was our first day back after our Sunday game. It was Monday. He made a comment about the Oakland-Miami, and how it was being called a championship game even though it was only a divisional game. And he said those people in Oakland said the championship game was played yesterday, that the best two teams in football had played. He said, ‘I want you guys to know that the Super Bowl is played three weeks from now. And the best team in football is sitting right here in this room.’ That statement doesn’t mean a whole lot if he said something like that every week. Chuck never said anything like that prior to that or after that. Not in that way. That was a great impetus for us winning that football game. The Raiders up to that point had been a nemesis for us. At that point in time the Raiders, after Chuck talked to us, they had no chance of winning that ball game. I felt that feeling never changed throughout the course of our preparation and during the game. Even when we were down at halftime, and even when they took away a touchdown from John Stallworth, that never changed. They just weren’t going to win the game. There were many times Chuck said things just about winning football games that proved to be so true. The man was just so consistent in his belief that we just believed everything he said. He was a man who wasn’t about any kind of hyperbole at all. You got the same Chuck all the time. Being the first pick – I haven’t been able to find any relevance in that. But I do know having Chuck as a coach made all the difference in the world in having the career that I had as a Pittsburgh Steeler. I know that early on we went 1-13, and even the year after, when you aren’t having success, it’s just hard to put any belief in the coach. After a while when nothing is happening positive for you, I was one of those of those guys who said what we are doing isn’t working. Why shouldn’t we change? But Chuck never changed. We just got better players and followed his instructions better. That’s when I became a believer, over the course of those first three years when I probably was skeptical the first two. Somewhere around the third year I started to see that if we did what he said, then we would win. And if we didn’t do it then we wouldn’t win. And I became a believer, even before we started to win. I saw the consistency in him and became a believer because of what he said and it became clear that how he was coaching us was the right way. In my time I didn’t see him hug a player or embrace a player, but he still loved his players. He wasn’t one for showing those kinds of emotions. But I watched him, and I saw him show his appreciation for his players and for his team in a very quiet and subtle way. I was very proud to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and to be coached by Chuck.
With all the great players – Bradshaw, Swann, Franco, Lambert, Greene – we don’t win championships without Chuck. He was the glue. He was the guy that got all of us to buy into how to win a championship. He took the lead. Obviously we were successful. There’s no question – you want to talk about an MVP of a very talented football team, it was Chuck. Preparation – he always felt you don’t win games on Sunday at 1 p.m. you win games in your preparation on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at practice. I think we all bought into that. We weren’t on the field long for practice but all the time was allocated in a very efficient manner. He told us one time, “You don’t learn anything five minutes before a football game is going to make you play any better or any worse, it’s your preparation.” I think a lot of guys not only carried that in football but in their lives as well.
He’s the one who turned the thing around. I played for a bunch of coaches, three or four coaches. You could tell it was going nowhere until he came. And you knew he had a plan. He knew what he wanted to do. He had the respect of all the players. A lot of times guys go around and make remarks about coaches and things like that, just kidding around. But nobody ever kidded around. They had the greatest respect for Chuck. And myself, I was very fortunate to have worked for him. There couldn’t have been a better guy to work for. He had everything prioritized right. Your family was first. Take care of your family. And the football came after that. If there was something wrong in your family, you took care of that. I couldn’t have worked for anybody better. He was the best.
First and foremost, Chuck provided a phenomenal basis and foundation for success for the Steelers as a team, and as the head coach he gave us the structure to accomplish everything we did. I think, certainly, he was a key component to the success of the football team and its winning habits. That’s No. 1. I think No. 2, for all of us as players, taking what Chuck taught us helped us develop as men. He showed us how to live well, and he gave us a foundation that would help us become successful way beyond football. When you look at a number of players who played for Chuck and what they are doing today, there is a high degree of success. So, we’ve all benefited from things that we learned from Chuck on the football field and what we can take with us in life. There are so many lessons. I guess if you had to boil it down to one, it was his fairness, honesty, and the dedication to one particular cause. We live in the moment. We dedicate ourselves to what is important to us today, but there’s also having an eye towards what is happening down the road and a vision for the future. But it all begins on how you respond to each and every day, each and every practice, each and every game. That kind of focus will get you what you ultimately want.
All of my head coaches in high school, college and in the pros, they were all good teachers and father figures. Chuck was no different. They were great teachers. They were willing to teach and impart their wisdom and the things that they learned to you as a player. They helped develop you. Also, all of my coaches, including Chuck, cared about you off the field, your family life. That was also important. I noticed that about him. I was telling my wife earlier this morning that there was one thing I really admired about him and that was all people want the attention and they want to be known, and he never pursued that. He always took the back seat. He always labored behind the scenes quietly. And that was a great example of a servant leader.
He was the guy who changed everything. The Steelers were a terrible team back in the 60s. As players we were very frustrated. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong with us. He basically told us, not in these words, but that we weren’t very good. Only five of us made it from his first season to the Super Bowl in 1974. He was focused on details. That was his mantra. He was a genius in that respect. He was not into emotional pep talks or anything like that. One time he said if I have to motivate you, I will fire you. His mantra of success through details is something I have used in my business. We are more successful because of that. He turned everything around. He was such an amazing coach. His greatest strength was his ability to achieve success in the drafts. Coach Noll, his first year brought in Joe Greene and every year after that brings in Hall of Famers. It was just incredible. He proved that you can’t win without the talent. But he brought the talent in and once it was there we were successful.