Dick LeBeau is a defensive legend
By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)
Dick LeBeau is one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of the NFL. He had an excellent career as both a player and a coach but is definitely most known for his success as the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is one of the best of all time in this role for his contributions, innovations, and longevity. He was active in the NFL for 59 consecutive years as either a player or a coach and as of 2010 he is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.
Career as a Player
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about LeBeau is his incredible success as a defensive coach, but before that he was actually a very good NFL defensive player first. After being drafted in 1959 out of The Ohio State University, he would eventually sign with Detroit Lions where he would spend his entire 14 year career as a player.
He contributed solid production, including 62 interceptions and four touchdowns, on his way to be selected to three Pro Bowls and three second-team All Pros in three consecutive seasons from 1964 to 1967. He is clearly one of the best defensive backs in the history of the Lions organization and still has the franchise record for most career interceptions.
Career as a Coach
After retiring from his playing career in 1972, he immediately took a coaching job as the special team’s coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1973. He would then go on from there to be the defensive backs coach for the Green Bay Packers and then for the Cincinnati Bengals as well. In 1984 he was promoted by the Bengals to be the defensive coordinator before eventually accepting a job with the Pittsburgh Steelers to again be a defensive backs coach. In 1995 he would become the defensive coordinator for the Steelers until 1997 when he would go back to the Bengals to be their defensive coordinator as well as an assistant head coach.
In the year 2000 the Bengals promoted LeBeau to his first and only head coaching job. He would spend three years in this position where he would struggle to a disappointing 12-33 record before being fired. Not all great coordinators make good head coaches, and unfortunately LeBeau is an example of this concept. From there he was hired by the Buffalo Bills to be an assistant head coach the following season for one year before returning back to the Steelers in 2004 to once again be their defensive coordinator.
During his time in this position, which would last until 2014, is where he would find the most success. That’s not to say that his entire defensive coaching career was not filled success, but this long stretch would be the highlight of his career. This is where he would really solidify himself as one of the greatest defensive coaches in NFL history. The feared Steelers defense were consistently one of the best in the league for just about every year during this run, and the schemes and designs of Lebeau were a big part of the reason why. During this time, the Steelers appeared in three Super Bowls and won two of them with their defense being the biggest strength of the team.
He would make one more stop before retiring in 2017, serving as the defensive coordinator and an assistant head coach for the Tennessee Titans. This would end a legendary run of 45 consecutive seasons as a coach in the NFL without any breaks at all. This is a clear indicator of not just how good of a coach he was, but the massive level of respect he had around the league.
Innovations to the Game
Lebeau is widely accepted as an absolute genius when it comes to defensive schemes. He was well known for running a very creative and complex version of the 3-4 defense. He is credited with being the inventor, and the master, of the zone blitz. In this scheme, the pass rushers attack the quarterback from a wide variety of positions and angles while completely disguising the coverage format with an unconventional mix of zones and man, all within the same play. The goal was to create havoc while confusing the opposing offense and it was highly effective. This concept that he created is used across the entire league today in different forms, but nobody did it better than the great Dick LeBeau. His legacy will live on forever in NFL history.