Dick Lebeau has a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He was a tremendous player for the Detroit Lions, but everyone concedes that his true purpose for being enshrined was his work as a defensive coordinator. Dick Lebeau was the creator of the 3-4 zone blitz that is so common across the NFL landscape. He brought this defense to the Pittsburgh Steelers before leaving to become the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, and then returned after being dismissed as their head coach.
Dick Lebeau is a patriarch amongst Steeler fans and the organization. You can see it in players that play for, and have played for, him. James Harrison broke down in tears this year during an interview while talking about playing for Dick Lebeau before the Bengals played the Steelers on Monday Night Football in Week 2. Lebeau is a legend and deserves every ounce of credit for changing the way defenses play the game at the professional level. With all that said, is it time for Dick Lebeau to bow gracefully and step down as defensive coordinator?
Such a blasphemous statement does have its merit if you truly analyze the situation. As great as Dick Lebeau is, every great coach eventually finds that point in their career where they need to step down and let the game move on without them. Dick Lebeau is 76 years old, and although his body hasn’t broken down, one has to ask how much longer Lebeau can handle the NFL lifestyle and still do such in a successful way.
Outside of his age, Lebeau is a man that has shown the ability to adapt to today’s modern NFL game. No longer can defenders get away with the huge hit across the middle, and the intimidation that came with any Pittsburgh Steelers defense that he coached. His defenses are always in the top 10 in the NFL, but the past few seasons the defense might have had the ranking, but not the same “feel”. The defense was making plays, but not dominating like a No. 1 defense typically would. Plain and simple, it looked like Lebeau was becoming predictable.
The Steelers have the heir apparent on their current staff. It has long been known that when Dick Lebeau decides to step down, Keith Butler (Steelers’ Linebackers coach) will take over the defensive play calling. Butler has turned down coordinator positions with other teams to stay in Pittsburgh and get a chance at calling plays for the black and gold. The question remains: Is it time for Lebeau to step down?
Mike Tomlin gave a spirited defense of Lebeau in his press conference Tuesday, and the Steelers organization echoes that sentiment. However, don’t think there aren’t people asking the same question about Lebeau and “hanging it up”. Dick Lebeau has earned the right to walk away when he feels he can no longer do the job, and who is to say that the struggles the defense is having this season are more based around the players on the field than the plays being called. Dick Lebeau is a legend in the NFL, in Pittsburgh and with the Steelers organization. When he decides to step down there is a plan in place, but he should get to make that decision on his terms and not on someone else’s.