Dick LeBeau - a 50 year NFL veteran


“I would like to congratulate Dick on his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Steelers president Art Rooney II commented when Dick LeBeau’s selection was confirmed in February. “Few men in the history of the NFL have contributed more to the league as a player and coach than Dick LeBeau during his 51 years in the league.”

Dick LeBeau’s contribution to professional football is extraordinary. He has been part of the NFL since the Cleveland Browns selected him in the fifth round of the 1959 draft. The Browns, being the Clowns that we know, cut him during his rookie training camp.

copyright Pittsburgh SteelersHe was picked up by the Detroit Lions and when given the opportunity during his rookie season, showed enough ability and commitment to be named a starter for the final six games of the 1959 season.

LeBeau not only loyally served thirteen years with the Lions, but was also acknowledged to be one of the best cornerbacks of his time, going to the Pro Bowl in consecutive years 1965-67. His resiliency is confirmed by his NFL record for consecutive games played by a cornerback with 171 starts.

During his career, LeBeau recorded 62 interceptions for 762 yards and three touchdowns. Those 62 picks are the most by a player in the Lions’ history, and is tied for eighth all-time in NFL history.

When the confirmation of LeBeau’s’ selection to the Hall of Fame was announced in February, the Lions’ current president Tom Lewand declared:

"The Detroit Lions and the William Clay Ford family congratulate Dick LeBeau on being selected for enshrinement into Pro Football Hall Fame. As one of the NFL’s all-time great cornerbacks, this recognition is extremely well deserved.

Few players in Lions’ history were as productive and durable as Dick was during his 14-year career. Not only was he a critical piece of several outstanding defenses during his career, but he also played the game with tremendous class and dignity. In 1970, Dick eclipsed the franchise’s all-time record with a remarkable 62 career interceptions, a mark that still stands after almost 40 years.

Dick was a special player, and he now joins seventeen players in Lions’ history to bestowed this great honour.”

Several of LeBeau’s interceptions were against fellow Hall of Famers, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr. "I used to kid both of them and say that most of my interceptions came against (them)," LeBeau said, "and they would always counter with 'Well that's probably true but how many touchdowns did we get on you?'

Having finished his pro playing career in 1973, LeBeau sought a coaching position in the NFL. Coinciding with his retirement as a player for the team, the Lions appointed a new head coach, Don McCafferty.

Unfortunately for LeBeau, McCafferty wanted veterans on his coaching staff, so LeBeau was never considered for any vacancy. Due to necessity, LeBeau cast his aspirations further afield and fortunately for him, the Philadelphia Eagles had also hired a new head coach, Mike McCormick.

McCormick gave LeBeau the special teams coach position, which he held for three years. LeBeau later remarked on the opportunity, “I had just finished playing. I was fortunate to get hired by Mike as special teams coach, and one of the toughest things in the National Football League is just to get an opportunity. I've always been grateful to Mike and, really, to the city of Philadelphia, for giving me my first opportunity."

In 1976 coach LeBeau moved to the Green Bay Packers, coaching their defensive backs under head coach Bart Starr. In 1980, when LeBeau accepted a position with the Cincinnati Bengals as their defensive backfield coach, Starr commented, “He makes good use of his mental capabilities. He’s been a driving, innovative, enthusiastic coach – one I thoroughly enjoyed working with.”

LeBeau’s relocation to Cincinnati meant he was moving closer to his roots. He was pleased with his move saying, “I was born and raised in London, Ohio and that’s only 80 miles from Cincinnati. It’s an opportunity to go home. It isn’t often in this business when you get a chance to do what you want and be home at the same time.            “

Coach LeBeau stayed at home with the Bengals until the end of the 1991 season when his contract expired and the Bengals president and general manager Mike Brown told him he was ''free to go elsewhere.'

In January 1992, the Steelers announced Bill Cowher as their new head coach in succession to the Emperor, Chuck Noll. A former defensive co-ordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, Cowher began looking for his coaching staff as soon as he settled into his new role.

Cowher said he would be looking for teachers and communicators as he thought those two qualities essential for any coach to be successful. He was methodical in choosing his assistants and took his time selecting the coaches who would be working with him.

Dick LeBeau became the final position coach named by Bill Cowher on February 7th.  When reporting his appointment the following day, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed that LeBeau had been the centre of controversy in Cincinnati the previous season while their defensive co-ordinator.

Cincinnati’s defense was ranked last in 1991 and 25th the previous year. The Bengal‘s General Manager had been highly critical of the team’s defense and reportedly was prepared to order coach Sam Wyche to fire his defensive coaches. When David Shula replaced Wyche, LeBeau was not rehired.

Dick LeBeau 1992 media guide photoDespite that cloud, LeBeau brought to Pittsburgh a solid reputation as a secondary coach. He had coached the Bengals’ defensive backs from 1980, adding the defensive co-ordinator’s duties in 1984.

During his first season with the Steelers as their defensive backs coach, LeBeau’s secondary made 18 of the team’s 22 interceptions as the unit ranked fourth in the AFC and eighth in the NFL in pass defense with the NFL’s lowest opponents passer rating of 64.0.

Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 15th overall with 291.1 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 8th against the pass with 176.1 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 17th against the run with 115.1 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 7th for interceptions with 22 and 1 touchdown.

The secondary made 22 interceptions.
Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 3rd overall with 283.2 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 15th against the pass with 197.7 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd against the run with 85.5 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 2nd for interceptions with 24 and 1 touchdown.

Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 2nd overall with 270.4 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd against the pass with 179.6 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd against the run with 90.8 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 13th for interceptions with 17 and 2 touchdowns.

Coach LeBeau was promoted to the Steelers defensive co-ordinator January 25th.
Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 3rd overall with 285.1 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 6th against the pass with 202.5 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 2nd against the run with 82.6 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd for interceptions with 22 and 3 touchdowns.

Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 2nd overall with 272.6 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 5th against the pass with 184.2 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd against the run with 88.4 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 4th for interceptions with 24 and 3 touchdowns.

The Steelers’ division rivals the Cincinnati Bengals had struggled in 1996 until midway through the season, when they replaced their head coach with Bruce Coslet. Having turned a disastrous season into an 8-8 finish, Coslet then began to look around to pick his own coaching staff to replace the one he had inherited.

Cincinnati was granted permission by Dan Rooney to talk to LeBeau for their defensive coordinator vacancy, but the rapid way he departed Pittsburgh certainly hurt coach Bill Cowher.

Having offered LeBeau a salary of $200,000 that would have made him the highest paid assistant in Steelers history, Cowher observed, “It seems funny that for a guy who wanted to market himself, it didn’t take a long time to do that. In the conversations I had with him, we couldn’t reach a contract agreement. It leads to me to believe that some of the conversations we had were moot points.”

“We’re disappointed LeBeau didn’t want to stay,” said Tom Donahoe, the Steelers’ director of football operations. “We made every effort to get a contract worked out and it didn’t work. The Steelers appreciate what Dick did for us the past five years and we wish him well. It will be fun to compete against him.”

The Bengals president Mike Brown showed his appreciation for the Steelers professionalism by paying the franchise this compliment, ''I appreciate what Pittsburgh did. They could have been wounded or resentful. I know it pinches them, it probably aggravates them, but they wish Dick well,''

Coach LeBeau was happy to be home again, ''It's great to be back. I really kind of felt like professionally there wasn't much more to do in Pittsburgh. I was looking forward to another challenge and I'm looking forward to the one that awaits us here.''

As the assistant to head coach Coslet as well as his defensive coach duties, Dick LeBeau probably thought that he was at the pinnacle of his career and being close to home, it obviously could not get any better.

Following a 0-3 start to the Bengals season, Coslet resigned as their head coach and LeBeau unexpectedly faced being the man in charge with the buck stopping with him.

The team finished 4-9 under LeBeau, including 4-6 in the final 10 games and a 2-2 mark in the final four. The Bengals were happy with the results and on December 20, LeBeau signed a multi-year contract with the franchise.

In his first full season as the Bengals head coach, LeBeau improved his team’s win record from the previous season by two, finishing with a 6-10 record, giving the Bengals the most wins in a season since 1997. The team’s defense ranked 9th overall in the NFL, the club's highest ranking since 1989.

RB Corey Dillon led the offense with 1315 rushing yards, second-most in team history  - behind his own 1435 total of the previous year.

copyright Mike Fabus and the Pittsburgh SteelersHaving won their final two games, including the season’s highlight beating the Steelers 26-23 in overtime, the signs were good for head coach LeBeau and the optimism for the following season was evident in every Bengals’ fans.

LeBeau had no luck and the Bengals suffered terribly with injuries that contributed to a dismal 2-14 record, the worst in franchise history.

The Bengals set a team record for pass completions (350), but went 0-7 before getting a win at Houston. The defense was inconsistent, and with nine touchdowns allowed on special teams or by the offense, the Bengals allowed the second-most points (456) in club history.

The Bengals misfortune became the Buffalo Bills good fortune. Former Steeler Tom Donahoe was the Bills’ president and general manager and appointed LeBeau as assistant head coach to Gregg Williams.

The previous season, the Buffalo Bills were fifteenth overall in defense. One year later they were second, but with a dismal 6-10 record that saw their head coach sacked.

The Steeler connection was maintained in Buffalo with Mike Mularkey chosen as the replacement head coach and it was widely rumoured that he wanted Dick LeBeau as his defensive co-ordinator.

Fortunately for Steeler fans, LeBeau decided his future was back in Pittsburgh and any previous challenges with Cowher’s style put behind him.

“Coach Bill and I have always been on the same page, and that is attack,” commented LeBeau. “We will be a pressure defense and I know the head coach feels that way to.“ He added he and Cowher wanted to improve the team’s aggressiveness.

I will say this about him – any coach who would not want coach Cowher’s input with the background and success that he has had on defense I think would be cutting his own nose off to spite his face. He is an excellent defensive coach. We have been together before and we have always worked together. I welcome his input.”

Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 1st overall with 258.4 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 4th against the pass with 177.2 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 1st against the run with 81.2 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 9th for interceptions with 19 and 3 touchdowns.

Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 4th overall with 284.0 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 16th against the pass with 198.0 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd against the run with 86.0 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 19th for interceptions with 15 and 0 touchdowns.

Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 9th overall with 300.3 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 20th against the pass with 212.1 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd against the run with 88.2 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 6th for interceptions with 20 and 2 touchdowns.


Mike Tomlin became the Steelers 16th head coach in January and was quick to confirm Dick LeBeau as his defensive co-ordinator and indicating the team would stay with the 3-4 defensive scheme.

When the Steelers made the Super Bowl, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams observed, ''Mike Tomlin is a smart guy and a great coach, because when he went to Pittsburgh he realised what was working and he stayed with it. 'Dick LeBeau makes Mike Tomlin a better coach, I guarantee you that.''

''Dick is unique,'' Tomlin said. ''It's a pleasure to come to work with him. He has a legitimate passion for the game and has a unique way of conveying that to players.''

Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 1st overall with 266.4 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd against the pass with 176.5 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd against the run with 89.9 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 30th for interceptions with 11 and 2 touchdowns.

Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 1st overall with 237.2 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 1st against the pass with 156.9 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 2nd against the run with 80.2 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 6th for interceptions with 20 and 2 touchdowns.

Steelers defense ratings:
Ranked 5th overall with 305.3 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 16th against the pass with 215.4 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 3rd against the run with 89.9 yards allowed per game.
Ranked 25th for interceptions with 12 and 2 touchdowns.

Copyright Mike Fabus and the Pittsburgh Steelers


Brett Keisel was asked during the Steelers first exhibition game how special was it for the players to be in Canton for Dick LeBeau’s induction into the Hall of Fame?

Mr. Keisel's response was very revealing:

"It was one of my favourite experiences ever. I put it up there with the two Super Bowls we won.

Just because of how much he means to us, how much we have learnt from him and just because of the type of guy he is. He makes it a joy to come to work and be part of this. And to have that type of atmosphere at work is a pleasure. "