The Tennessee Titans have been busy this free agency period in adding free agents, among them former Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence a couple of days ago. Yesterday, they also added Antwon Blake to the mix. Earlier, the Titans signed Brice McCain, who played for the Steelers in 2014, and was released by the Dolphins this offseason.
While McCain was only with the Steelers for one season, all three players share a very common thread in Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who was the defensive coordinator for the Steelers for quite a while up until the 2015 season, and it’s no coincidence that they have added three former players who already played under him in the black and gold.
These are not the only former Steelers on the roster, however. A year before LeBeau joined the Titans, Tennessee signed Pittsburgh free agent defensive lineman Al Woods. They just re-signed him, under LeBeau, to a new contract this offseason. They also added former Steelers cornerback B.W. Webb last year, who was on the roster in 2014, but did not make the team in 2015.
That is five players now that LeBeau has with him in Tennessee that he knows and has coached from his days in Pittsburgh, with Spence being the most prominent among them. The former 2012 third-round pick started nine games under him in 2014, his final season, after the Steelers gave him two years to recover from a career-threatening knee injury.
Looking at the Titans’ roster, I won’t claim to be proficient in my knowledge of their team, but it would seem that Spence may have the best opportunity among the recent signings to make an impact other than McCain, who was signed to a two-year, $5 million contract. Spence was added on a one-year, $2.5 million contract.
Adding Blake and McCain to the secondary adds experienced depth with starting experience that they lacked, and is obviously something that LeBeau tended to covet in his days with the Steelers—perhaps to a fault, in the minds of many. It was notoriously difficult for young players to crack the starting lineup under the Hall of Fame cornerback’s watch.
The man that his former players in Pittsburgh effectively termed “Coach Dad” has spent 57 years doing the business of football, spanning his lauded playing career and into the coaching ranks, where he had his hand in creating aspects of the modern defense that have been emulated throughout the league.
The Steelers were interested in tweaking LeBeau’s formula, however, so the two parties mutually agreed to part ways after operating for years under year-by-year one-year contracts, promoting his protégé and heir apparent, linebackers coach Keith Butler, under whom Pittsburgh has adopted a more sub-package-minded approach.
LeBeau didn’t last long before the Titans approached him under then-head coach Ken Whisenhunt, a former Steelers offensive coordinator, to join their ranks as an assistant head coach of the defense. Having made strides on that side of the ball for the team, Tennessee and LeBeau re-upped this past year under Mike Mularkey as head coach—another former Steelers offensive coordinator—where he is an assistant head coach and now the outright defensive coordinator as well.
Former Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend is also among his coaching staff, as is former defensive lineman Nick Eason—two more players that he coached. Lou Spanos was also a defensive assistant for several years under LeBeau in Pittsburgh, and has been with the Titans since 2014 when Whisenhunt brought him on board. Keith Willis was a defensive end for the Steelers in the 1980s, though his timeline did not overlap with LeBeau’s.