The Playbook in the Trash
True improvement so often depends on patience, focus and an internal discipline to tune out outside elements.
Hall-of-Fame Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Chuck Noll was a strong but quiet leader who never sought the spotlight.
But despite his mild-mannered nature, Noll was demanding. He insisted that the game be played the right way and held his team members accountable to his standards.
In the early 1970s, a Steelers locker room attendant stumbled upon a Houston Oilers playbook lying around the locker room before a game and excitedly handed it to Noll. Pittsburgh now had the answers to the big exam right in front of them.
“A few minutes later, Coach stood in front of all of us and held out a binder,” Steelers defensive tackle Joe Greene said.
"'Gentlemen,' he said, 'This is the Houston Oilers' playbook. We play them twice this year. We have all their plays and their game plans.' Then Coach Noll held out the playbook and dropped it into the trashcan. We're not going to open it. That's not how we do things. We are going to prepare how we prepare, we're going to line up against them on the field, and we're going to do what we do and that will give us the best chance to win.'"
Greene explained what that moment meant to him and the rest of his teammates.
"It was moments like those that made everyone on the team buy-in," Greene wrote. "You wanted to play for a guy who took that kind of moral stance. You wanted to be a part of a team that does it the right way. You want to win for a leader like Chuck. To him, the fundamentals mattered just as much in football as they did in life. We lost that game, but we won for having witnessed his decision to nut use an unfair advantage."
Noll wasn’t going to discount long-term goals for short-term success. Not stealing the playbook was more than a moral issue to him. It was about getting his players to understand that it was about how they, not the opponent, performed.
True improvement so often depends on how we as leaders focus internally on what our teams must do to excel, while paying little attention to external forces.
When teams go on losing streaks or have a bad quarter, frequently the leaders look for ways to quickly mask their problems and get back on track. But Noll’s approach was different. He wanted to concentrate on the essence of the game — the core components of consistent winning.
He didn’t take the easy path — he took the one with obstacles because he knew these would prepare his players better for long-term success on and off the field.
Real improvement will always depend on patience, focus and an internal discipline to tune out the outside elements.
That frequently means throwing the opponent’s secrets in the trash.