Pittsburgh sports writer Jim O'Brien returned to the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling last week to introduce his latest book, "A Winning Way," which explores the career and legacy of legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll.
Speaking again at a Lunch With Books session Tuesday, April 22, the popular presenter said his new volume is the first book devoted exclusively to the life and career of Noll. On a recent list, Noll was ranked as the fifth greatest coach in National Football League history, O'Brien added. "Chuck is a good man," he said.
"A Winning Way" features 32 pages of color photographs. "It's the first one I've done with color inside," the author said regarding the book. Also of interest to longtime Steelers fans, the book contains photos of players both when they were playing and in current shots.
O'Brien, 71, has been writing about Pittsburgh sports teams for 56-plus years. He related that in his home, he has 34 file drawers of stories, notes, newspaper and magazine clippings and photographs.
For the Noll book, "I've interviewed all of the Steelers stars from the '70s," he said. O'Brien also had a rare interview with the retired coach. Noll "was not into reminiscing or reflecting when he was coaching," but became "much more friendly, approachable, conversational after he retired," O'Brien observed.
Noll lives about one and one-half miles from O'Brien's home. In an interesting side note, the late Myron Cope, a legendary sports writer and broadcaster, lived about equal distance between the homes of Noll and O'Brien, the speaker pointed out.
When the writer visited Noll's home to interview him for the book, O'Brien noticed the absence of Steelers memorabilia in the former coach's living room. "You wouldn't have known this was a man who had won four Super Bowls," the author said. "He just wasn't one to call attention to himself."
Noll, 82, now has serious back problems and uses two canes to help him walk; he also has short-term memory loss, O'Brien said. "It's a shame. Like many people, he (Noll) was very well retired," the writer commented.
Regarding Noll's coaching career, O'Brien said, "Chuck was an expert about a lot of things." He said Noll was an "instigator for why they have testing for concussions now," relating that the coach questioned Ohio Valley native Dr. Joseph Maroon about why two weeks was regarded as the time to keep a quarterback off the field after sustaining a concussion in a game.
O'Brien, who had many relatives from the Bridgeport and Wheeling areas, recalled that he was 14 years old when he first met Cope at Pitt Stadium.
The teenager, who was the sports editor of a local weekly newspaper in the Pittsburgh area, asked the famous sports writer for advice on becoming successful in journalism. "Kid, you gotta sit down and start writing," Cope told the young man.
"It's the best advice I've ever gotten," O'Brien reflected.
O'Brien also had high praise for Sean Duffy, coordinator of Lunch With Books and other adult programming at the library. He told the audience, "I think Sean Duffy has created a culture here that you're very lucky to have."
Anticipating that his presentation would attract about 100 people (actual attendance was 87), the Pittsburgh resident remarked, "I wish I could have that in my own back yard."
In a far-ranging discourse, O'Brien - in a side note to male members of the audience - shared his four tips for a successful marriage: "1. Always adore her. 2. Do whatever she wants to do. 3. Don't ask what anything costs. 4. If you screw up - and if you're Irish, you will - beg, beg, beg for forgiveness and beg some more."
Linda Comins can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org