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Swann: 'He was there to help you learn'

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, memories and in this feature, lessons learned from the Hall of Fame coach.

*He was a legend. He was a football genius. He was the emperor.

He molded young athletes not just to become great football players, but to become men. He taught them X's and O's, but he also left them with important life lessons. 

When former Steelers and Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Noll died in June, it left a void in Steelers Nation. The man who led the team to four Super Bowl championships in six years during the 1970s, the man who helped turn the organization around, was gone.

But what he taught his players, what he left them with some as long as 40 years ago, will never be forgotten. Because Chuck Noll wasn't just a football coach, he was much more.

"I think everybody under Chuck's leadership grew as players and people," said former wide receiver Lynn Swann, who had a Hall of Fame career under Noll. "Ultimately Chuck was a teacher. He believed when you signed that contract you were a professional. He was there to help you learn, grow, teach you how to win games and prepare for games. You were prepared to go out and win. You had the confidence if you executed you would do well. 

"I think most of us, if not all of us, under Chuck took those lessons and applied them to everything we have done since then."

You would be hard pressed to find a player, particularly those from the 1970s, who didn't walk away from their time under Noll with the same feeling. The lessons are vast, and the benefits many.

"I think the most important lesson is to always be prepared," said former cornerback Mel Blount, another of Noll's Hall of Famers. "That is one of the things that always made the Steelers great. Chuck always had us prepared to play and prepared for any situation that came up on the field.

"There are so many lessons. When you were around a person like Chuck, there were so many lessons. Being prepared was one, the other was you never really arrived. You could always be better, there was always more to accomplish. Chuck was a great teacher and he had a way of saying things that would make you think. Those were fond memories and would help any person in life."
Joe Greene was Noll's first-ever draft pick, selected in the first round in 1969. He played for 13 seasons under Noll's guidance, and was a member of his coaching staff for five seasons. Greene could rattle off a laundry list of the lessons he took from Noll.

"He would use things like rise to the occasion, pay attention to detail, and distractions take you away from your goal," said Greene, who also earned a spot in the Hall of Fame under Noll. "It was the little things. Play the way you are being coached, don't let the officials take you out of the game.

"He had a big effect on me with his consistent talking and teaching and philosophy. He never changed. The things that you need to do to get a job done, you do it. Don't get distracted. He talked about succumbing to distractions, outside influences. You don't need outside stimuli to help you play a ball game. If it doesn't come from within, it's going to be short lived. Bulletin board stuff that came from outside and other ball clubs he didn't believe in that."

Greene recalled Noll walking into a team meeting with a playbook in his hand, one left in the locker room by a visiting team the Steelers would be playing again. It was a potential gold mine for the Steelers, and what Noll did with it left an impact on Greene.

"He dropped it in the trash," said Greene. "Staying focused was his primary goal."

Other's also shared the lessons they learned playing for Noll, including some who had a long career under him, to those who only played a few years under Noll.

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

** Safety Mike Wagner, an 11th round draft pick in 1971, went on to play in two Pro Bowls and be a part of Noll's four Super Bowl teams. But he knew, no matter how much success he saw coming from a late round pick to a starter, he never should stop reaching for more.

"He taught me if you think you have arrived, you haven't," said Wagner. "We work hard to achieve goals and he would say if you think you reached your goal, it's time to reconsider and set a new goal. He was always asking us to dig deeper and set higher standards and goals."

** Hall of Fame Center Dermontti Dawson, who played for the Steelers from 1988-2000, played under Noll for only four seasons, but still felt his impact.

"The thing that Chuck used to talk about was keeping things in perspective," said Dawson. "As a player coming in and trying not to get too excited when things went well and not get too down when things aren't going well. Just keeping it even keel helped me in my career.

"I think just being consistent in all that you do. He was consistent throughout his whole life. Those are things you can take forward and apply to every facet."

** Tight end Randy Grossman joined the Steelers as a rookie free agent in 1974 and went on to play eight seasons under Noll, and being a part of all four Super Bowl teams in the 70s.

"The primary lesson was focusing on the basics," said Grossman. "He talked about the basics often. The two things he talked about the most were focusing on the basics and distractions. If you focus on the basics, technique, preparation and you didn't get distracted you would succeed. Every time things were going poorly he would always come back to that and it would be the reason, people weren't focused. Down to his essence that was his message, focus on the basics and not allow distractions to take you off your path."

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