Dick LeBeau resigning as Steelers defensive coordinator
January 10, 2015 5:02 PM
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, left, and head coach Mike Tomlin at a Steelers practice in November.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, left, with brother, Bob, unveil his bust during his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers and longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau have mutually agreed to part ways, the first but most significant step as the team prepares to move forward with younger players and, apparently, a fresh approach.
Mr. LeBeau, one of the most revered defensive coordinators in the National Football League who is regarded as the architect of the zone blitz that is copied by many other teams, agreed to resign after meetings over several days with Coach Mike Tomlin.
“I’m resigning, I’m not retiring,” Mr. LeBeau said Saturday in a phone interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It was a lot of great days, a lot of great years. It’s time to go in a different direction.” He broke the news in the Urbana Daily Citizen, a newspaper near his hometown of London, Ohio.
The mutual parting was reminiscent of the announcement three years ago that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had agreed to “retire” when in fact team president Art Rooney II told him he would not be offered a new contract. A week later, Mr. Arians joined the Indianapolis Colts as offensive coordinator.
In a statement released by the Steelers, Mr. Tomlin said, “We want to thank Dick for his many years of service with the team and all that he has done for this organization. His coaching helped lead us to many successful seasons and championships. We are very appreciative of his efforts, and we wish him well.”
Mr. LeBeau, 77, just completed his 11th season in his second tour of duty with the Steelers. His defense finished 18th overall in the league, including 27th against the pass. The Steelers allowed 15 pass plays of 40 yards or longer, second most in the league behind the Philadelphia Eagles (18). It was the second season in a row the Steelers allowed more long pass plays than any team in the AFC.
However, during his tenure with the Steelers, Mr. LeBeau’s defense ranked No. 1 overall in the league five times and in the top five 10 times.
“It happens,” said Mr. LeBeau, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who has spent 56 years in the league as a player and coach. “It’s like I’m starting brand new. In this business you can end up in that position.”
The likely successor to Mr. LeBeau is linebackers coach Keith Butler, who has been with the team since 2003 and been given several indications over the years that he will be the next defensive coordinator.
The Steelers have blocked opportunities for Mr. Butler to interview with other teams by increasing his pay and giving him a three-year contract when most other assistant coaches get two-year deals.
However, Mr. Butler’s latest contract expired after the season and he could choose to explore opportunities with other teams.
The decision to part ways with Mr. LeBeau comes at a time when the Steelers are likely to part with as many as four more players who helped them get to three Super Bowls — linebacker James Harrison, defensive end Brett Keisel, cornerback Ike Taylor and possibly safety Troy Polamalu.
Earlier this season, Mr. Harrison told the Post-Gazette the decline of the Steelers’ defense was not Mr. LeBeau’s fault.
“The scheme is the same, the calls are the same,” Mr. Harrison said. “The defense works. It’s been proven that it works for years and years. The defense has always been ranked in the top nine or 10 since coach LeBeau got here, except for the last year and now. The only thing that changes is the players.”
Mr. LeBeau joined the Steelers in 1992 as a secondary coach on Bill Cowher’s first staff and remained in that position until 1995, when he was promoted to defensive coordinator. But, after one season in that role, he left to become assistant head coach/defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he eventually became head coach from 2000 to 2002.
In 2004, he returned to the Steelers for his second stint as defensive coordinator and quickly produced the No. 1 total defense and rushing defense in the league. In 2005, the Steelers stopped four of the league’s top five offenses in the postseason on their way to their fifth Super Bowl championship.
In 2008, the Steelers led the league in total defense, pass defense and points allowed and finished second against the run and won another Super Bowl title. That same year, Mr. Harrison was named the league’s defensive player of the year.
Two years later, Mr. LeBeau’s defense led the league in eight defensive categories and shattered the franchise record for rushing yards allowed per game (62.8). Mr. Polamalu led a secondary that produced 21 interceptions and he was named the AFC defensive player of the year.
Mr. LeBeau said he did not know if he will continue to coach in the NFL or elsewhere.
“I don’t even know, but I’m not retiring,” Mr. LeBeau said. “There might not be anyone interested.”
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