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Greene: 'I learned to trust him'

Sunday, September 7, was designated Chuck Noll Day by Pennsylvania's United States Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey.Noll died on June 13, 2014 at the age of 82. The Steelers will honor Coach Noll's memory when they host the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on Sept. 7, for the first time wearingthe helmet decal they will wear all season to honor Noll. *All week will also honor Noll's memory, including his former players sharing stories, lessons learned and in this feature, what it was like to have had the opportunity to play for the Hall of Fame coach.

Chuck Noll was a tough person to read for his players. When they thought he was going to be happy after a big win, he would be serious and introspective regarding the team's success. When they would play poorly, he wouldn't get angry like many coaches do, but instead teach them how to correct their mistakes.

He didn't have a close relationship with his players, he wasn't their buddy, but always had their attention and respect and they loved to play for him.

"He wasn't an open book," said former running back Rocky Bleier. "He was a closed kind of guy. He didn't wear his heart on his sleeve. It was hard to read him. But what Chuck's philosophies, what Chuck taught you, Chuck's approach to the game were the fundamentals that ultimately made us successful.

"Chuck put the game in perspective as far as your life is concerned. The game was a part of it. What you have to do to play the game was a part of it, not all of it. You have a family life, a personal life and they had to be in balance."

Mel Blount, who on the field was a fierce-hitting cornerback but off-the-field a cowboy at heart, knew Noll had another side too. He just didn't show it, but that was okay because he got results.

"He had a way of keeping us at arm's length, but kept us prepared and focused on the real purpose, which was winning football games and being the best we could be," said Blount. "When I think about Chuck Noll, I think about leadership and consistency.

"Chuck was a great evaluator of talent and people. He always said you needed good people and I think he did a good job of identifying those kinds of players. Not just good athletes but good people."

For those that played in the 1970s, when the legend of Chuck Noll was growing, it was one thing. For those that came in the late 1980s, to play for a coach already destined for the Hall of Fame, it was another.

"When I got drafted to Pittsburgh in 1988, I knew I was going to a team that had a legendary coach," said Hall of Fame center Dermontti Dawson. "Once I got to meet Coach Noll I was kind of in awe because he was a legend. I was very excited to meet him the first time. You kind of you know his persona and that he won four Super Bowls and was in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When you come out in college you are overwhelmed when you have someone of this stature.

"I am blessed and lucky to have known Coach Noll and played under him for four years. I played for a legend."

Former defensive lineman Keith Gary was a number one pick of Noll's in 1981, but a holdout and then playing in the Canadian League kept him off the field until 1983. But when he did arrive, he loved playing for Noll.

* *"He was a no-nonsense guy but extremely fair," said Gary. "He treated everyone the same. He knew every day you stepped on the field, whether he was there or not, you had to work hard. He learned about it if you didn't. He didn't miss anything. Everyone had respect for him. It was a joy to play for him."

As a rookie on a team with a 1-13 record, Joe Greene had a hard time buying what his coach Chuck Noll was selling. It would be the same story each week, the same speech. And it wasn't sitting well with Greene right off the bat. Then he started to see things change.

"I learned to trust him," said Greene. "It was difficult my rookie year. He always talked about doing certain things and if we did them we would win, if we didn't we wouldn't win. I thought it was getting old, getting stale because we didn't win, nothing changed.

"The second year was the same thing. But as he got new players in, the message didn't change but the people did. I started to see little by little the things he was talking about. It came true and that is when I became a believer."

He wasn't alone in becoming a believer. Defensive back J.T. Thomas saw it happen slowly for some of his teammates, but it happened.

"Chuck could speak to your soul," said Thomas. "When you speak to the soul you get to an area where most people don't allow you in. Chuck could go there. He could tap into the qualities of letting you know you are okay, you can make it, and you have purpose. When you get that type of support from your coach and it's legitimate, it's amazing what it does. 

"He had principles, a lot of those principles we took and it didn't initially change a guy's attitude but eventually changed their behavior which led to a change in attitude."

Take a look at the top 10 photos of Steelers former head coach Chuck Noll.

Chuck Noll will always be a part of Pittsburgh. His memory will always live in the hearts of Steelers fans, passed down from generation to generation, including those who never saw him coach a game.

And a part of Chuck Noll will always be in the hearts of his players, something they will carry with them forever.

"He is a man I was fortunate to work with and work for for nine years," said Swann. "I think of him as a great teacher, someone who always wanted the best for everyone else.

"I think of him as one of the best coaches that ever coached in the NFL. I think the ripples of what Chuck Noll gave the city of Pittsburgh went far beyond the football field."

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