“He’s a brilliant writer, a skilled interviewer and a relentless re-
searcher,” Gordon says.
MacCambridge came to Pittsburgh in summer 2012 “just to decide
if there was enough critical mass to justify a book,” he says.
“At that point I don’t think I knew more than the average fan knew
“But clearly they had agreed the time had come to tell his story.”
about Chuck Noll. But I certainly knew how successful he was and how
reticent he was.”
MacCambridge explored his potential subject with Joe Greene,
Rocky Bleier, Jack Ham, Dick Hoak, George Perles and Tony Dungy.
Visits with Chuck and Marianne Noll, their son Chris and their niece
Joanne also provided “a sense of how private he was and how protective
the family was of him,” MacCambridge says.
Noll by then was battling Alzheimer’s disease, but he still retained
specific memories and details of his childhood, MacCambridge says.
In more than 300 interviews MacCambridge conducted, others filled
in the blanks and eventually shed light where it rarely, if ever, had been
shown in a public forum.
So did his study of the massive scrapbooks kept by the Steelers,
containing much of the coverage written about the team during Noll’s
So did the viewing of each Steelers highlight film produced annually
by NFL Films, beginning with 1968, the season prior to Noll’s arrival,
and running through 1992, the first year after his departure.
Access granted by the Noll family included the discovery of a bulletin from Noll’s grammar-school commencement ceremony among the
papers he’d saved (integral to MacCambridge’s efforts to contact childhood friends) and the chance to watch the video of Joanne’s wedding
reception, held at the Noll home.
“The Nolls are private people, and I’m grateful they agreed to go
needed for a year’s tuition at Benedictine High School in Cleveland.
outside their comfort zone and cooperate for the book,” MacCambridge
one of the greatest coaches ever, see him accomplish so much over the
years — but then when you turn on the TV on Sundays and people are
discussing the great coaches, his name rarely comes up.”
Noll’s life, if not his life’s work, included attending the Cleveland
Indians’ parade after that team won the 1948 World Series and working
as, among other things, a pin-setter and a grave-digger to earn the $125
On the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he first had to overcome being sent home from Notre Dame before freshmen classes had
started by then-head coach Frank Leahy after suffering an epileptic seizure on the practice field, and being passed over for the head coaching
position at the University of Dayton as his career as a messenger guard
and linebacker for Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns was ending.
“Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” digs deep enough into the Super Steel-
ers to include the play called that resulted in “The Immaculate Recep-
tion” (“half-right, split-opposite, 66 out-and-in”).
But it is much more than just another celebration of the Team of the
“The thing that struck me when I was going back over it: When
he started coaching in 1969, the cult of personality among coaches
was at an all-time high,” MacCambridge says. “It was about Lombardi
of course, but also Tom Landry and George Allen. Everybody had a
“Chuck attempted to demystify all that and distill the job to its most
In the end, no commitment would ever mean more to him than the
basic, salient elements, which can be summarized as, ‘coaching is teach-
Noll’s story is one of a man who came to embrace a philosophy that
maintained “success was not a fixed point, but an ongoing state of mind,
a series of habits and commitments,” on and off the field.
one he had made to Marianne.
“He remained engaged with her and who she was to the very end;
that’s the most touching thing for me,” MacCambridge says.
“Somehow, through the connection they had and the constant pres-
ence that Marianne kept and [his] Herculean efforts to remain mentally
active … they kept that connection.
“That was heroic in its own way, as well.”
Print and broadcast journalist Mike Prisuta is the host of the Steelers Radio Network pregame sho w and
has covered sports in Pittsburgh since 1985. He writes “Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section” each week for
pittsburghmagazine.com and is the sports director for WDVE-FM.
• Noll and his sister Rita, with whom he shared a deep
bond, during their final visit
in spring 2010 in Pittsburgh.