Dick LeBeau Reveals The Most Unsung Steeler He Ever Coached

As you hopefully heard on yesterday’s podcast, Dave Bryan and I were overjoyed to spend a half hour with former Pittsburgh Steelers’ legendary coach and Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau. We spent 30 minutes hearing stories about his life and career and the new book he’s working on that’ll tell the story of the 2008 Steelers’ defense. If you haven’t listened, go check out the interview here, starting around the 23:00 mark.

Throughout his Steelers’ tenure, he coached countless great players. There were, of course, superstars like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. But we wanted to know what player LeBeau considered to be the most underrated, the glue guy who held everything together and someone who hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves. For LeBeau, he had one name. Ryan Clark.

Here’s LeBeau’s full answer on Clark and what he gave Pittsburgh’s defense.

“The most unsung player of all that defense, in my opinion, is Ryan Clark. Coach Cowher was looking for a for a safety. He thought we needed a safety. And he gave me the assignment to look at all the free agents that were available that year. And I did my due diligence and I said, ‘Coach, I think that Ryan Clark is the guy who would fit in with what we do and the way we adjust and move and disguise.’ I see him, he doesn’t miss tackles and he’s smart. He’s obviously can make all the checks. I don’t see him out of position. And I think he would really be a good safety for us.

“Where he filled us out was Troy was so creative in his extemporaneous adjustments to the offensive formations and the pictures that he was seeing. And he could just react so quickly. I don’t know really how they communicated exactly. Because I watched them practice every day, and I would watch him in the game, and I could never see really exactly what the heck they were doing but wherever they went, they were like joined at the hip. And Ryan always, always, was there if Troy needed him. And together they gave us easily the finest pair of safeties in the league for so many years. You don’t really hear anybody talk that much about Ryan. Troy, of course, because of his great play in the Hall of Fame. I think he would tell you that Ryan is a big part of him being in the Hall of Fame.”

A tremendous answer from LeBeau. An undrafted free agent out of LSU, Clark signed with the Steelers in 2006 after several seasons in Washington. After battling some injuries his first two seasons, he got healthy to be part of Pittsburgh’s historically good defense in 2008, racking up 88 tackles and a pick. Clark’s numbers were never flashy but they didn’t have to be. The Steelers had their playmakers, the splash play guys. Polamalu, Harrison, Woodley, all the names fans know. Clark allowed Polamalu to roam free, take his educated guesses, and be the safety valve as the last level of defense on the off chance quarterbacks countered Polamalu’s movement.

Clark was also a heavy hitter with some of the most vicious blows delivered by any Steeler in the modern era like his hits on Wes Welker, Willis McGahee, and LenDale White.

As LeBeau mentions, Clark and Polamalu had a special relationship and had great on-field chemistry. So much so that in one game against the Cleveland Browns, Clark played team doctor to put Polamalu’s shoulder back into place. It’s a reltionship the game doesn’t often see, in part because it’s rare for two players to play so long next to each other. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds were teammates for what felt like a decade yet spent only half the time together Clark and Polamalu did.

Clark played eight seasons in Pittsburgh, starting 109 games and making one Pro Bowl. Above all, he has a Super Bowl ring from that ’08 season and clearly earned the admiration from his defensive coordinator, who knows Clark’s value went well beyond the box score.

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