NEW CASTLE —
Chuck Noll never liked the spotlight.
Most great leaders don’t.
Though he was the “frontman” for the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s, Noll was much more comfortable walking alongside his players.
Guiding. Prodding. Pushing. Pulling.
His mission as head coach of the Steelers wasn’t to promote himself to the highest level of notoriety. That’s where his players belonged. And he helped them get there the best way — the only way — he knew how.
He taught them.
When Sports Illustrated asked him in 1980 how he would like to be remembered, he answered, simply: “Most of all a teacher. Put down that I was a teacher.”
That’s the first thought that entered my mind when I had learned of his death over the weekend.
Always a teacher. Yet that didn’t necessarily mean lecturing.
In the public setting, he was a man of few words. (Think an even more reserved Gregg Popovich.)
The fewer there are of something, the more valuable they become. So when Noll spoke, his words dropped like elegant china at a wedding.
You just have to look. And you just have to listen to what comes next.
While he’ll forever be remembered for his Hall of Fame coaching career and four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, I’ve never forgotten his words.
They’ve been repeated over and over in the years following Noll’s retirement. The sentences have been tweaked a bit, modified for whichever audience was on the receiving end. Yet their power remains the same.
Here are three quotes from Noll that every parent, coach and business leader should keep close by.
And refer to often.
1) “Champions do the ordinary things better than anyone else.”
Noll’s Lesson: Achieving excellence in any endeavor is insanely simple. But so hard to do. It takes focus, determination and discipline. It takes grit, passion and persistence. It takes belief. Notice a trend with those traits? You don’t need to run a 4.2 in the 40. You don’t need an IQ of 168. You don’t need a wheelbarrow filled with cash. You just need to be ordinary. A little bit better than the rest.
2) “The thrill isn’t in the winning, it’s in the doing.”
Noll’s Lesson: The joy is in the journey. Perform because you love what you do. Keep reminding yourself that it’s never about “being good,” but it’s always about “getting better” each time we enter the office, the classroom or the playing field. Instead of wasting our energy worrying about outcomes, which are often out of our hands, let’s focus on the process and our commitments.
3) “Everyone is needed, but no one is indispensable.”
Noll’s Lesson: You matter. You really do. Just not as much as the team. Although we care deeply about you and your well-being, if you stop performing your role for the greater good, we’ll have to care about you as a member of another company or team. The “disease of me” has brought down many organizations. Pride has pummeled plenty of defending champions. Great players can make a team successful, but great teammates can make it SPECIAL.
So, to sum up what we’ve learned from today’s master class.
•There are no “little” things. Focus on those tasks you love to do and do them as well as possible to help your team.
•Fulfillment doesn’t come as a result of attaining something we DON’T have (winning). It comes from being grateful for the opportunities you DO have to pursue your passion.
•Know your role. Become a star in your role. Enjoy the unique colors you — and only you — can bring to the mosaic.
Thank you for that lesson, Coach.
So powerful. So true. So timeless.
To borrow your own words, you really have been a “teacher” to the very end.
And now, beyond.