Throughout his NFL career that spanned 13 seasons — 12 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and one with the Indianapolis Colts — cornerback Deshea Townsend was always viewed as the type of player that would one day become a coach.
While he wasn’t the biggest, strongest or fastest, he had a great mind for the game with a high football IQ, one that was consistently prepared and knew the role of each teammate around him on the field. During his time in Pittsburgh from 1998-2009, Townsend had the chance to work under the legendary Dick LeBeau, who was the defensive coordinator for the Steelers from 1995-96 and 2004-14.
Under LeBeau, Townsend – who currently serves as the passing game coordinator and cornerbacks coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars — got a chance to get his feet wet in the coaching game…sort of.
According to former teammate and longtime Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, LeBeau had Townsend calling third down plays defensively during his time in Pittsburgh, trusting him to make the right calls and get the right personnel on the field based on what the opposing offense was going to do.
Taylor, appearing on his Bleav in Steelers podcast with co-host Mark Bergin highlighted Townsend as a mentor he had early in his career while discussing what it might be like for Steelers rookie Joey Porter Jr. when he dropped a nugget about LeBeau allowing Townsend to call plays on the field.
“He [Townsend] was always wise. He was the coach of the field. I remember Coach LeBeau used to let Deshea call third downs,” Taylor said, according to video via Bergin’s YouTube page. “That’s how important Deshea was on the field.”
During his tenure with the Steelers, Townsend played in 183 career games, becoming a full-tiem starter in the 2004 season when LeBeau came back to Pittsburgh as the defensive coordinator. Under LeBeau from 2004 to his last season in Pittsburgh in 2009, Townsend started 62 games, finishing with 13 of his 21 career interceptions in that six-season span.
Getting the chance to call third downs defensively under LeBeau, during a period in which the Steelers won two Super Bowls and had some of the best defenses in the league in that time period, helped shape Townsend into the coach that he is today.
It was always expected by teammates that Townsend would be a coach when his playing career was over. After one season in Indianapolis, Townsend jumped headfirst into the coaching industry, spending two seasons in Arizona as the assistant defensive backs coach from 2011-12, before then going into the college game at Mississippi State from 2013-15 as the cornerbacks coach.
Townsend got back into the NFL coaching ranks in 2016, spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons with the Titans as the defensive backs coach, before then heading to the New York Giants for one season as the assistant defensive backs coach. From there, Townsend landed with the Bears, where he coached from 2019-21 as the secondary coach before entering his current role in Jacksonville as the passing game coordinator and cornerbacks coach.
Eventually, Townsend — based on his progression and trajectory — will be a defensive coordinator in the NFL, and maybe even a head coach. When that time comes, he can look back on some of that in-game experience he had thanks to LeBeau putting the third-down calls on his plate.