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
”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
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.”