Father’s Day Thoughts On Dad, Noll & Flowers

Found myself thinking about a lot of different things on the first Father’s Day of my life without my Dad. I thought about him, his father and his father’s father. I thought about my kids, their kids and the juggle of past, present and future.

I’m quite sure my Dad would be mourning the death of Chuck Noll. On Friday night, the 82-year old former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers died in his sleep at his home in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Noll is the only coach in the Super Bowl era that’s taken his team to a championship victory four times.

My father was a big Noll fan because he saw the coach turnaround a franchise that had been in the NFL gutter for decades. As my Dad grew up, became an adult, earned a pharmacy degree, got married and had children, the Steelers were awful. It led to the frequently used saying amongst the folks of western Pennsylvania: S-O-S – Same Old Steelers.

What Noll did with the Steelers was nothing short of a miracle. The franchise went from laughingstock to one of the most revered, feared and hated teams in the league. Hall of Famers were everywhere on that team, and they became some of the biggest names in the game: Bradshaw, Mean Joe, Franco, Swann, Stallworth, Iron Mike, Lambert, Ham and on.

Noll was the chief engineer behind the turnaround, but spent no time pounding his chest and taking credit for his success. That’s another thing my Dad liked about the Steelers coach: he wasn’t a loud-mouth, a headline maker, a yakker, or a jagov to use the parlance of western Pennsylvania.

Pondering Noll’s accomplishments led my thoughts in another direction. Would he be as good a coach, a winner of four Super Bowls in six seasons, if he had to coach under today’s conditions in the NFL? In the 1970s there was no free agency in the league to speak of, no salary cap and no reason for spending on players to increase on an annual basis.

In those four Super Bowl victories over six years the Steelers had 11 of 22 starters that opened all four games. That group included the starting quarterback (Bradshaw), starting backfield (Harris and Rocky Bleier), left tackle (Jon Kolb) and three of the team’s best defensive players (Greene, Lambert and Blount.) The Steelers eventually lost starters from the Super Bowl teams due to money. Harris eventually left in the 1984 season when Pittsburgh wouldn’t pay what he wanted; Franco had been there 12 years. Mike Webster did the same in 1989 when he signed with the Chiefs after 15 seasons of wearing black and gold. They were past their prime. At no time did the Steelers lose a player that was still a major contributor.

With all those Hall of Famers and some of the best players in the game at the time, there’s no way Pittsburgh would have been able to keep all those names with today’s rules. A salary cap and free agency would have pulled apart the core of those Super Bowl champions.

Still, somehow Noll would have been a successful coach anyway. He just may not have led the Steelers for 22 seasons, and for a decade been one of the most dominant teams in league history.

Thoughts of Noll’s place in today’s game led me down another avenue of thought, to the Chiefs decision to release Brandon Flowers on Friday. The Pro Bowl cornerback was sliced from the roster because he makes too much money and does not fit what the Chiefs are looking for from their cornerbacks.

The NFL has become more like college football. When they draft a player, teams know they will have him for four years. If after two years they view him as a very good player they’ll sign him to a contract extension that could push his spot on the roster out to six or seven seasons, keeping him out of free agency.

It has created an atmosphere where a player does not spend his whole career with a single team, making it just about impossible for a team to maintain the type of continuity needed to win four championships in six years.

There is another factor in the Flowers situation and that’s his fit with the Chiefs current defense. His time wearing a red jersey was shortened by the instability of the organization since Flowers was selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft. In the six seasons since, the Chiefs have had three general managers, four head coaches, five offensive coordinators and five defensive coordinators. Management changes, coaching changes and scheme changes will make some talented players obsolete because they no longer fit what the team is trying to accomplish on offense or defense.

The Chiefs saw this effect in 2009 when Scott Pioli and Todd Haley were hired, in 2011 when Romeo Crennel was named head coach and again last season when every part of the football operation was changed. John Dorsey and Andy Reid have been on the job for just 18 months; on the current roster there are only 16 of 89 players that were here before January 2013. Three of those 16 are kicking game specialists (Dustin Colquitt, Thomas Gafford and Ryan Succop).

Continuity and consistency are the benchmarks for championships teams, in the coaching office and the locker room. An organization must know what it wants, keep its decision makers on the payroll, and acquire talent that fits the vision. Change that equation through shuffling coaches and allow alterations in how players are evaluated/acquired/developed makes an arduous journey more difficult. Any deviation and there’s no chance a franchise can sustain championship success.

5 Responses to “Father’s Day Thoughts On Dad, Noll & Flowers”

  • June 16, 2014  - Ernie Barney says:

    Bob, your last paragraph nails it. Perhaps the Chiefs are on the right path. It can be done. A very well written commentary. My Dad has been gone for several years now and Fathers Day is just another day to me now. That being said a day does not go by that I don’t think of him and thank him for all he did for me.

  • June 16, 2014  - milkman says:

    Another among many reasons it is so important to make the right choices when picking the people to run your franchise. If nothing else, Clark Hunt seems to have the knack of learning from his mistakes.

    On a personal note: It’s been 20 years since I lost my Dad. It’s amazing how day to day you don’t think about it but you catch yourself saying some of the same things he said and doing the same things he did and making the same decisions he would have made. How can you not miss someone who had that much influence on your life?

  • June 16, 2014  - PAChiefsFan says:

    Is there any reason to expect Houston will not show for mini-camp? I hope he remains a team player and has not become a me type guy that we see so much of.

    My condolences to you Bob with the losses you have suffered this year and to those of you who lost your fathers. I am blessed that mine is still here. At 91 time is taking its toll and the effect on his mind makes him not quite the same man he used to be but I was still able to spend time with him, talk to him and hug him as I left. So I enjoyed the time we shared.

  • June 16, 2014  - jimbo says:

    I remember Chuck Noll very well, even as a Chiefs fan. Not unlike the well dressed Tom Landry or the dapper Hank Stram. I cannot recall him wearing a tie during games. I do recall that he was a serious sideline thinker and seldom lost his cool. He did have a menacing look about him when he was wronged or saw something terribly wrong. On the other hand he was a winner who enjoyed the utmost respect from his players and fans. He certainly had mine.

    Thanks for the well written remembrance Bob.
    RIP Mr. Noll
    Go Chiefs.

  • June 16, 2014  - ChuckXX says:

    Personally regarding Flowers I don’t think it has one iota to do with scheme. I think it has everything to do with this thing called: M-O-N-E-Y.

  • June 17, 2014  - cychief24 says:

    Chuckxx- nice job of ignoring the facts. The scheme is completely different from what Flowers has played before and he graded out poorly.
    I agree that we would have one if Flowers had stayed healthy we would have beat the Colts. I was there and when BF went down Hilton went nuts.
    Still his cap # was too high for how he did/didn’t fit.

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