LeBeau makes Steelers defense go

At 73 years old, Dick LeBeau still has that ”swagger.” He

still designs and makes the calls for one of the league’s best and

most aggressive defenses. He still finds new ways to be


But the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator also has

remained humble enough to know staffers at the team’s practice

facility by name. He does push-ups with his players, and has even

been known to shed a tear when those same players who admire him so

much go out of their way to pay him tribute.

In the nine seasons LeBeau has served as the Pittsburgh’s

defensive coordinator, the team has never finished ranked lower

than No. 9 defensively in the NFL, and its average ranking is No.

3. This season, no team allowed less points and only one permitted

less yardage than the Steelers (13-4), who host the New York Jets

(13-5) Sunday in the AFC championship game.

It’s those types of results that earn players’ attention. But

when it comes to LeBeau and the Steelers, the members of what has

been arguably the league’s most consistently dominant defense over

the past decade take their respect for him almost to a level of


”He’s like a father figure to everybody,” cornerback Ike

Taylor said. ”You won’t find another guy who is coach LeBeau. A

guy of his stature, knows defense in and out, pretty much made up

the ‘fire-zone blitz’ packages. He’s very laid-back, real cool,

real collected. Usually, you see those guys and they have egos.

There’s not one cell in his body that has a bad ego. Very


”You can go on and on about coach LeBeau.”

Can’t you tell?

”He’s the best defensive coach,” linebacker James Farrior

said, ”I’ve ever been around.”

That’s saying something. Farrior’s been around for 14


”He just makes you want to work for him,” defensive end Ziggy

Hood said. ”We love and respect what he does and everything that

he gives to us.”

Right now, he’s put this unit on the verge of another Super

Bowl. And something tells us, LeBeau knows how to keep it focused

this week.

”Of course he’s a great defensive coordinator, a great coach,”

defensive tackle Chris Hoke said. ”He gets the best out of all of

us. But also on a personal level, everybody respects and everybody

loves the guy. On and off the field, I think everybody appreciates


The players have shown it publicly in a myriad of ways over the


There’s the time the entire defense sprung for authentic replica

Detroit Lions No. 44 jerseys, a tribute to his playing days as one

of the best defensive backs of his generation. The way they openly

campaigned for years for his induction into the Pro Football Hall

of Fame – and the way they all showed up at his induction ceremony

when he finally made it in 2010.

”I’ve said consistently they’re the best PR department I’ve

gotten,” LeBeau said. ”They got me in there. It was great. It’s

very humbling to be honest with you. It’s the type of thing that

makes you think you made the right career choice. When the guys

that you’re working with can treat you like that, it’s a very, very

special thing and it’s a lifetime memory and something I will never


LeBeau has had two different tenures as Steelers defensive

coordinator (sandwiched around, among other things, a head-coaching

stint in Cincinnati). Despite having a background in a completely

different style of defense, Mike Tomlin kept LeBeau when he was

hired to replace Bill Cowher as head coach in 2007.

Tomlin said LeBeau ”inspires” him.

”He’s a special man,” Tomlin said, ”arguably the best in the

world at what he does.”

Tough to argue with that.

”It’s nothing that this game can present to him that he hasn’t

seen in this league,” Tomlin said. ”And I think the guys have a

level of respect for it. But at the same time, he has a unique and

very authentic way of relating those stories and lessons to the


LeBeau’s defenses have been known for their creative blitzes and

the pressure they put on the opposing quarterback – and for being

stifling against the run.

This season, Pittsburgh led the league in sacks with 48, and the

mere 62.8 rushing yards per game they allowed was the third-lowest

since the NFL merger in 1970.

But no team this season ran for more against the Steelers than

the Jets, who had 106 yards in a 22-17 win Dec. 19. Pittsburgh also

uncharacteristically managed only one sack in that game. LeBeau

acknowledged the Steelers will have to do a better job.

”Coach LeBeau has another game film to look at, how they

attacked us, how he wants to stop certain things,” Hoke said. ”So

he’ll come up with some new wrinkles to stop what they want to do

to us.”

Jets coach Rex Ryan made his name as a defensive coordinator

with the Baltimore Ravens. He called LeBeau ”a legend,” and joked

that he’d rank him as the league’s best at his job if it weren’t

for the fact that Ryan’s twin, Rob, also was a defensive


”He’s always on the cutting edge of creating new things,” Ryan

said of LeBeau. ”His players play extremely hard for him. They

have great trust in him.”

And it’s that trust that keeps LeBeau coming back, year after

year. In fact, he has a standard retort for those who dare to ask

when he plans to retire after 52 consecutive years in the NFL as a

player or coach.

”I’m not even the oldest coach in the state of Pennsylvania,”

he said. ”There’s a guy up here at Penn State, he’s 10 years older

than me, so I feel like a baby.”

The prospect of outlasting Penn State’s 84-year-old Joe Paterno

aside, LeBeau doesn’t sound like a man making his final Super Bowl


”I don’t think these guys had too bad a year defensively, and

we’ve still got some defense to play,” he said. ”So if somebody

wants me to work, I think maybe we can still get them in and out of

the huddle a couple times.”

See what they’re talking about? That ”swagger.”