I find it sort of baffling that we haven’t talked more about the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers are tomorrow going to face for the first time since his departure their former and longtime defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, who was one of the people most responsible for beefing up the organization’s trophy room in the 2000s.
Of course, we’re the ones who do the writing around these parts, so it’s on us that it hasn’t been discussed much, but in our defense, we are working on a short week. Still, I think anybody who’s been a fan long enough—especially those who might have grown up watching LeBeau’s defenses—understands the enormity of his return to Pittsburgh.
While the octogenarian was not ‘refired’ the way that Bruce Arians was before him, it does seem clear that the organization was ready, perhaps more than ready, to move on from LeBeau after 13 seasons following the 2014 campaign.
There had been a verbal agreement in place for years that then-linebackers coach Keith Butler would succeed him as defensive coordinator. Butler’s contract was up at the time, and the defense had been regressing, so the change was predictable, perhaps even relatively amicable.
Said LeBeau recently of his tenure in Pittsburgh, “my time with the Steelers, what the organization did for my life, I had so many good things happen for me there. I’ll always be grateful to Pittsburgh and the Rooney family”. But he added, “we’re in Nashville now”.
Still, when the man was inducted into the Hall of Fame, as one of the great cornerbacks of his generation, he didn’t spend as much time talking about his playing days as he did the players he was leading to perhaps Hall of Fame careers in their own rights, like Troy Polamalu and James Harrison.
“I was fortunate to be able to coach so many great players”, he said recently, talking especially about the 2008 championship team. “The defense, they set records that I don’t know if there will ever be those numbers again”.
“The numbers they put up are actually equal to the numbers we put up when I played in the 1960s, and the game is so different now. So I’ll always remember that bunch”, LeBeau concluded.
‘Coach Dad’ currently has his Titans defense ranked 16th in the league in total yardage, while Pittsburgh sits second. The Steelers have allowed the second-fewest points per game, Tennessee 11th-most. The Titans have allowed 17 receiving touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns to Pittsburgh’s eight and six.
The Steelers are tied with the second-most sacks in the league, while the Titans have the third-least. Yet typical to LeBeau’s teams, they are the only team to allow fewer than 20 explosive passing plays. Some things just never seem to change.