People have been clamoring for him for so long that it seemed most appropriate a few weeks ago when former Steeler great, Rod Woodson, voiced his opinion about this glaring miscarriage of justice at his own induction ceremony. Apparently, the groundswell of sentiment has now grown sufficiently large enough that the committee agreed to finally nominate him while he's still an active coach! So now this amazing man is poised and on the brink of going just where he belongs next...to Canton, Ohio!
As is the case with 99% of all Pittsburgh Steeler fans, I have long known of the greatness of Dick LeBeau. However, it wasn't until I began researching this story that I realized the depth and scope of this man's awesome accomplishments. So what I've decided to do is to put together the most massive tribute ever done to Dick LeBeau...something as big as the man's extraordinary accomplishments. There will be one major detail that must be clarified before you read this piece: The story is far from over! Dick LeBeau is no closer to retiring today than he was five years ago! At 71 years, 352 days and counting, Dick LeBeau is as vibrant and driven today as he was when he first began coaching back in 1973. At this point, I guess it's almost safe to call him the "JoePa of the NFL" eventhough he hasn't only been with one team.
So sit back, Dear Readers, clear about ten minutes or so from your busy schedule so that you may drink deeply of the wonderful football beverage that is one Charles Richard "Dick" LeBeau.
THE PENULTIMATE DICK LEBEAU PICTORIAL:
IS HE MAN OR IS HE AN EXTRATERRESTRIAL???
Is Dick LeBeau an alien? He could be! In fact, after studying this man's entire life, I would say that the odds now favor alien because his achievements truly have been more superhuman than mere mortal. Consider:
After being named a High School All-American out of London (Ohio) high school, LeBeau decides to matriculate to THE Ohio State University then coached by fiery Woody Hayes (LEFT). While playing at OSU, LeBeau plays both ways at tailback and defensive back. In 1957, the Buckeyes finished as Co-National Champions. During that championship season, young Dick LeBeau, playing both sides of the ball, scored two touchdowns as State came back to defeat their hated rivals, the Michigan Wolverines, 31-14.
But young Dick LeBeau had bigger things in mind after graduation from Ohio State. He was ready for a career in the NFL. That chance came around for him in the 1959 draft as he was selected in the fifth round by a team that was, in those early days, one of the most prestigious... the Cleveland Browns. Amazingly, LeBeau did not make the Browns squad, but he did sign on as a free agent with the Detroit Lions. Lucky them, and in retrospect, a typical Browns move.
During the next 14 seasons, LeBeau played in 185 games and holds the current NFL record for most consecutive games played at cornerback (171). But LeBeau was not just playing, he was dominating. Renowned for his ability to anticipate the pass and break to the ball, LeBeau piled up 62 interceptions during his career and 762 interception return yards, third most in league history. Three of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns. LeBeau made it to the Pro Bowl three times and in 1970, he set a career mark for interceptions in a single season with nine.
ABOVE: Dick LeBeau, sans helmet, striking one of those crazy early football "action" poses.
Immediately after finishing his amazing playing career, LeBeau started right into coaching where he served as special teams coach in Philadelphia under Mike McCormack. Who would have known back then that the man who was indestructible as a player would be indomitable as a coach too?
In all, LeBeau has coached during 36 campaigns, thus making him one of the very few men in NFL history to pile up 50 years combined between playing and coaching. But just as distinctive as when he was a player, LeBeau has been equally as distinctive as a coach, merely adding fuel to the "extraterrestrial mystique".
In the early 80's, for example, while with Cincinnati, LeBeau created his famous "Fire Zone" or now as it's known in Pittsburgh, the "Zone Blitz". He explained in a later interview, "It was a thought process kind of born out of necessity. It was basically an outcropping of the "run and shoot" that was becoming pretty prevalent in the league back then. We were in the same division with Houston and they were pretty tremendous at it with Moon and company. Then the "West Coast Offense" began spreading throughout the league . Those were all quick-rhythm-get-the-ball-out-of-your-hands-quick types of passing games. We were just looking for ways to get pressure without exposing our defensive backs to have to cover the whole field all of the time." ("Philadelphia Daily News")
While LeBeau has been tremendously successful as a position coach and later as a coordinator, he did have a brief term as Head Coach of the Bengals that in retrospect would become the low point of his career. After that disaster, his old friend Tom Donohoe hired him as the Assistant Head Coach under then-coach Greg Williamson in Buffalo. LeBeau was not long for Buffalo, coaching there only one season.. When the Steelers called him after cutting loose their coordinator, Tim Lewis, LeBeau quickly accepted a return to the Black and Gold and has been there ever since...even despite the departure of then-head-coach, Bill Cowher.
When the Steelers brought in young Mike Tomlin, there was rampant speculation in the media that he might change coordinators since he had worked with different defensive schemes in both Tampa and Minnesota prior to coming to Pittsburgh. However, to his credit, Tomlin did no such thing, instead wisely opting "not to fix it if it ain't broken" as we like to say around here. The result has been a coaching marriage made in heaven. Tomlin has the luxury of having the most respected defensive mind possibly ever in the league running his defense while also being able to focus his attention with a more team-wide approach. The result has been that the Steelers, under Tomlin and LeBeau have been the best coached overall team with far and away the stingiest defense. Don't be shocked if they "Do it again this year" too.
Just how good have LeBeau's defenses been since he came back to the Steelers? 2004- First; 2005-Fourth; 2006-Ninth; 2007-First and 2008, First. Don't expect the defense to have much of a dropoff this season either.
So to summarize the still-continuing saga of this amazing man, here's what LeBeau has captured so far during his storied career: National Championship at Ohio State in 1957, 5-time AFC Champion (as coach), two-time SuperBowl winner (as coach), played in three Pro Bowls and holds records for durability, longevity and interceptions as a player with the Lions.
So while we haven't come to a firm conclusion that Dick LeBeau is indeed an extraterrestrial, we have, however, determined that his accomplishments far exceed those of any mere mortal. Who can possibly argue that? in this writer's opinion, anyone not voting for him for induction into the Hall of Fame should be permanently disbarred as a voter and then maybe even abducted by aliens!
ABOVE: As both a player and a coach, Dick Lebeau has only been stellar throughout, except when Mike Brown nearly caused his coaching legacy to go "kaplooey" much the same way as Marvin Lewis' once-promising career in also now languishing there.
ABOVE: Is Dick LeBeau yet another example of the "Peter Principle"? Was he promoted to a level of incompetence, or was he promoted to a level by an incompetent organization then left out to dry? Judging from the amazing success he's had his entire life, it's safe to say that the problem was clearly with the Bengals organization. But as they say, their loss is our gain. We'd much rather see LeBeau in a Steeler hat and headset RIGHT, than in Bengal pumpkin.
ABOVE: LeBeau has been compared by some to Aussie actor Paul Hogan. He can also be seen in the 1970 movie "Too Late the Hero" starring Michael Caine (LEFT). LeBeau played Caine's stunt double in a scene. There seems to be no shortage of things that this multi-talented man can and already has accomplished both on and off the field!
ABOVE: Much in the same manner as Chuck Noll, LeBeau is not a one-dimensional, football-only type of person. No, he is a "Renaissance man" in the finest Steeler tradition. At one time he even carried a +1 golf handicap! Always the family man, Dick had three daughters and a son with his deceased first wife Phyllis and also a son and daughter with his second wife, Nancy. So he even has great prowess where it truly counts!
ABOVE: LeBeau's face contains a wonderful assortment of human conditions: Quiet, introspective, intelligent, personable, humble, confident and clearly being the man in charge of the Steeler defense. His players would have it no other way.
ABOVE: LeBeau is never afraid to bundle up in "Cream of Wheat" weather. You don't get to be nearly 72 and still coaching in the NFL by being stupid!
LEFT: Even though this is LeBeau's 11th season in two different coaching stints with the Steelers, most people aren't aware of the fact he has coached a total of 18 years with the Bengals during two different periods of his career as well! In addition, he also coached a total of seven years between Philadelphia and Green Bay early in his coaching life, first as a special teams coach, then as defensive backfield coach.
ABOVE: The man who succeeded LeBeau at Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis, holds up a Dick LeBeau rookie card at LeBeau's 50 year celebration at London High School. Obviously there are no hard feelings there.
ABOVE: Part of the large crowd that gathered at LeBeau's alma mater, to celebrate their most famous alumni's 50th anniversary in the NFL.
ABOVE: LeBeau celebrates his 50 years with his biggest fan, his mother, Beulah.
ABOVE: Normally more reserved by nature, Dick LeBeau is never afraid to smile or share a laugh with his players. While he is intense about football, he manages to balance that love with an appreciation for life. Methinks this may have something to do with the basis for his popularity.
ABOVE: Chairman Dan Rooney, President Art II, and NFL Director of Football Operations, Mike Kensil, gathered to commemorate LeBeau's 50th year in the NFL.
ABOVE: LeBeau and Tomlin have combined to form the most solid of relationships and have the highest degree of respect for one another.
ABOVE: LeBeau enjoys a wonderful rapport with all of his players. He is literally revered by them. Imagine their joy when then-new-coach Mike Tomlin wisely decided to retain him on his new staff!!
ABOVE: If there was ever anybody you'd want to have taking care of your goal line, no question, it's this guy.
ABOVE: The man behind Coach Tomlin celebrates a defensive stop in the goalline drill at the St. Vincent's training camp. Tomlin enjoys a laugh out of it.
ABOVE: Tomlin clearly has the ear of all of his players. They would walk through the fires of hell for the man they call, "Coach Dad".
Above: Dick LeBeau acknowledges the cheers for him at a victory parade in Pittsburgh.
ABOVE: Perhaps one of the biggest compliments LeBeau ever received came when all of the Steelers got off the plane in Detroit at SuperBowl XL wearing LeBeau jerseys. A classy move by a bunch of guys who truly love their coach. They've even bought him a Rolex in the past! The Pittsburgh fan wearing this LeBeau jersey also recognizes true class when he sees it!!!