By Will Vandervort.
It was just a typical evening at the Stoudt residence. Cole, who was nine years old at the time, and his older brother, Zack, who was 14, were watching television when their father, Cliff, came into the room to speak with Zack.
Cole was never one to get involved when his father spoke to his older brother. He felt it was a conversation between them. So on this particular night, like he had done several times before, Cole got up from the chair and excused himself from the room.
Cliff noticed this pattern and he felt maybe his youngest boy should stay and listen to the lecture, which was mostly about football and everyday life, because maybe he could learn from his big brother’s experience. What Cliff did not know is that Cole would leave the room, stand against the wall on the other side and listen to the whole conversation.
“After I got done talking to Zack, I went to Cole and said, ‘Do you know you always walk out of the room when I get into something really deep?’ And I said, ‘Maybe you should stay and listen.’ And Cole said to me, ‘Dad, I don’t miss a word you say.’
“He just soaked it all in,” Cliff said. “That’s one thing that has really impressed me about him. He is a very good listener, he is a good learner and he remembers everything.”
One of the things Cole picked up on was his dad’s relationship with his former head coach Chuck Noll, who passed away on June 13 at the age of 82. Noll, who coached the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969-’91, had a tremendous impact on all three of Stoudt’s children.
“I wrote a letter to Chuck Noll one time and said, ‘I wish I could go back and to it again because I did not really figure out all you were teaching us until I started raising my own kids and I realized a great deal of what I was teaching my kids was straight out of your mouth.’
“The kids have soaked it up,” Cliff said. “Cole is very calm all the time. He listens, he learns and he just kinds of files it away in a memory bank. You don’t really realize that he caught onto it until you hear him talk one day or when you watch him play or you watch him prepare.”
Cliff was one of Noll’s quarterbacks at Pittsburgh from 1977-’83. During that time he was part of two Super Bowl Championship teams as he backed up Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who guided the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles from 1974-’79. It is still considered the greatest dynasty of the Super Bowl era.
“The Steelers had a unique situation,” Cliff said. “Going to Chuck’s funeral was another example of what I always told the kids. We had such a good situation. I might go five or six years without seeing the guys, but when I see them it is like we all left the facility and went home, then woke up in the morning with gray hair and pot bellies. But then we go back to the locker room and it is like we never missed a day.
“We have the kind of closeness that time does not diminish any of it. When we get together, it’s like we just saw each other yesterday. Going back and sharing Chuck Noll stories, and everyone has one – you know Chuck touched all of our lives in a tremendous way.”
One of Noll’s greatest influences to his players was his work ethic. Noll was not a rah-rah kind of coach. He believed motivation came from your own work. How you practiced, how you prepared and how you did your job; that was the only motivation a person needs.
Unknowingly, the Steelers soaked up Noll’s teachings and it not only translated onto the football field, but it became part of their lives. Though he did not start his first game for Noll until 1983, Cliff said he prepared every off-season and every week as if he was going to start.
Why? He was motivated. At the time Cliff thought it was because he wanted to prove he could be the guy, if he was called upon, that could get the job done. He now knows it was more of Noll’s influence and the way he made sure all his players knew their role on the team and, more importantly, knew their job.
Cliff says he has seen that influence rub off on Cole at Clemson. Despite being the backup to Tajh Boyd the last three years, Cole has prepared as if he was the starter. He practiced hard. He learned the playbook and he studied the film. In other words, he was doing his job.
“You don’t really realize he caught on to Chuck’s influence until you hear him talk one day or you watch him play or you watch him prepare,” Cliff said. “You always hear him say, even the first three years here behind Tajh, he prepared like he was going to start. That is one thing I told him I had to do as a backup quarterback.
“You never know when that time is going to come. You may wait a year. You may wait six years like I did, but one day it is going to come and you better be ready when Coach calls your name.”
In other words, Cole made sure when his turn came he was ready. Even if it meant leaving the room and listening to his dad lecture his brother on the other side of the wall.