Chuck Noll’s Imprint On BucsJune 17th, 2014
Today, arguably the greatest leader of the Super Bowl era, former Steelers head coach Chuck Noll, was laid to rest in Pittsburgh. The man won four Super Bowls. More than Bill Walsh, Bill Belicheat, Don Shula, Bill Parcells, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.
While Noll never worked a day for the Buccaneers, his fingerprints are all over Tampa Bay.
And that is because of Father Dungy, who both played for and coached under Noll.
When Father Dungy was hired by Tampa Bay in 1996 and turned the Bucs from laughingstock to annual contender, he tried to build the Bucs with the same Noll model for the Steelers dynasty.
Yesterday, while appearing on “The Opening Drive” with co-hosts Bob Papa and Booger McFarland, heard exclusively on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Dungy explained how the Bucs were an extension of Noll’s Steelers.
“‘Champions don’t do extraordinary things, they don’t make the highlight reel plays,’” Father Dungy recounted Noll’s words when Dungy played for him. “’They do the ordinary things better than everybody else, day in and day out. We are going to be fundamentally sound and outhit the other team. We are going to be fast and physical and that is how we are going to win.’ He kept things simple and basic.
“What I brought to the Buccaneers 20 years later was the same philosophy. We are not going to be smarter than anybody else. We are not going to fool people. We are just going to play football fundamentally sound and win. That was a lesson I learned from [Noll].
“He was very accessible. Focus on fundamentals. Don’t pay attention to what everybody else thinks about players.”
Father Dungy also said he consulted with Noll often when he coached the Bucs, but the message from Noll was always consistent and unsympathetic to Father Dungy’s problems. “Fundamentals” was always the solution. When in doubt, scale back the playbook and focus on fundamentals.
As a result, Father Dungy said Noll was like a second father figure to him.
The only thing Joe has to quibble with Father Dungy about building the Bucs in Noll’s image was how Father Dungy never adapted in Tampa yet Noll did with the Steelers.
Noll was very old school: Pound the defense with the run and only throw the ball if you had to. But that was until the league changed pass defense rules, largely because of how Noll’s future Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount shut down opponents’ passing attacks. The new rule allowed receivers to run free. Defenders could only only touch a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
After the rules change, Noll decided to embrace the passing game. Blount, in the 1978 Steelers “America’s Game” episode, spoke about how Noll told his team they were going to air it out under the new rules.
That very same team had a reserve cornerback on the roster by the name of Tony Dungy, who Blount said in the same video was the smartest football man he ever met. That 1978 season, Terry Bradshaw led the NFL with 28 touchdown passes and was the first quarterback to throw for over 300 yards in a Super Bowl as the Steelers won their third title.
When Father Dungy was with the Bucs, he was often asked why he would not open up the offense. Dungy’s constant reply was, in so many words, this is how we did it in Pittsburgh. There was a lot of grey area in that answer — not wholly accurate but not inaccurate. But Joe’s issue with Father Dungy was direct. He didn’t adapt like his mentor did.
And now with the Bucs being led by perhaps Father Dungy’s strongest disciple, Lovie Smith, it is obvious listening to Lovie and watching practices that Noll’s influence is all over One Buc Palace once again.