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Noll lives on through Steelers legacy

by

Staff Writer

The late Chuck Noll, legendary Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, has his name on a street outside Heinz Field and the team’s training camp site. Now he will have a day named after him.

That is Sept. 7 when the Steelers host their season opener against their archrival and Noll’s home-town team, the Cleveland Browns. Senators in Pennsylvania decided earlier this month to designate that day “Chuck Noll Day.”

This is just anther honor for Noll, who died on June 13 at age 82 at his home in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.

Noll is the only head coach in NFL history to win the Super Bowl four times, and he did it in a six-year span during the 1974-79 seasons. He is one of the most beloved and respected people in the Steelers Nation along with the Rooney family, not only because he led the Steelers to four Vince Lombardi Trophies but also because he changed the culture in Pittsburgh.

In 1969, Noll took over as coach of the Steelers, who had been in the playoffs only once since they entered the league in 1933 and almost always were the doormat in the division before his arrival. It was a job even Penn State coach Joe Paterno turned down.

Noll, then the youngest head coach in NFL history at 37, built the team through the draft. Noll drafted defensive tackle Joe Greene in his first year, and quarterback Terry Bradshaw and defensive back Mel Blount the next year, all Hall of Famers. By 1974, when the Steelers won their first of a record six Super Bowl titles, running back Franco Harris, linebackers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, wide receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann — also Hall of Famers — were stocked on the roster.

Building through the draft is the formula the Steelers still use. They always take the draft-first approach and are rarely active in free agency even 22 years after Noll retired.

Another major footstep Noll left in Pittsburgh is the defense-first attitude. As a defensive-minded coach, Noll believed defense wins championships. The Steel Curtain in the 1970s was one of the greatest all time, and since then the Steelers have had a reputation for having a strong defense.

Although it is not as rich as Bill Walsh’s, Noll’s coaching tree has produced some successful head coaches. Tony Dungy, who lead the Colts to the Super Bowl championship following the 2006 season, played for Noll and later worked for him as defensive coordinator. The latest Super Bowl-winning coach, Pete Carroll of the Seahawks, also studied defensive schemes under Noll.

Noll retired in 1992 after 209 wins in 23 years and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame two years later, but never returned to the football field. But the formulas and culture he brought to the team have been succeeded to the current Steelers, who have played three Super Bowls and won twice in the last decade. Noll is worth being appreciated once again, especially this year in the 40th anniversary of his first NFL championship.

Andre Johnson saga: Don’t rule out an Andre Johnson trade just yet.

NFL.com has been reporting the rumor that Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson has asked the team to trade him to another team.

NFL.com appears to not be buying the rumor, but it’s too early to rule it out.

The Texans were a Super Bowl contender a year ago, but are now in the rebuilding process after a disappointing 2-14 season and with Bill O’Brien taking over as head coach. It’s natural for the 33-year-old Johnson to feel it’s tough to go through another rebuilding process and want to play for a championship-caliber team for the rest of his career.

Remember what happened to Tony Gonzalez in 2009? The then-Chiefs tight end complained the team unexpectedly started rebuilding by using younger and inexperienced players, and demanded to be traded. His wish was granted and he was traded to the Falcons where he enjoyed his first career playoff win in 2012, but fell short of reaching the Super Bowl.

Who can say the same thing will not happen to Johnson in Houston this summer? His salary is $10 million and his cap value is $5 million more. If the Texans can find a good trade partner, Johnson could start this season in a different uniform.

The Wonderful Wizard of Ozzie: Jimmy Graham finally agreed with the Saints on a four-year, $40 million contract, and became the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Now he accepts being called a tight end instead of a wide receiver.

Graham caused an argument whether he should be regarded as a tight end or a wide receiver due to his role in the Saints passing offense. The NFL ruled Graham is a tight end, but he didn’t like that idea.

Of course not, because he could have gotten $5 million more for his 2014 salary if he had signed a one-year franchise player contract as a wide receiver. It doesn’t bother him any more now that Graham got rich no matter what he is called. But the argument was left unsolved. What if the next Jimmy Graham appears?

In the current NFL, the role differences between wide receiver and tight end is getting smaller. Wide receivers have become bigger and tight ends run long passing routes more frequently than before. Exchanging the roles between the two positions is one of the effective schemes to make mismatches, which Saints coach Sean Payton loves.

But when you talk about the franchise player contract, the difference is big. A player who is designated as the franchise player gets at least the average of the top five salaries at his position. As of March 11, when the league year started, that is $12.3 million for wide receiver and $7.053 for tight end. It’s big, isn’t it?

To solve this issue, let’s follow what the Ravens did to Terrell Suggs in 2008. Suggs was tagged as the franchise linebacker that year, but he wanted the status of a defensive end, whose average salary was about $4 million more. He played outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense but also played defensive end in the 4-3 alignment.

How did they solve it? Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome created a new definition of the position called “hybrid linebacker,” and succeeded to move negotiations forward.

So, how about creating a “hybrid tight end” position for Graham-type tight ends?