Jim Corbett, USA TODAY Sports
January 10, 2015
Dick LeBeau and Troy Polamalu in training camp this past July. (Photo: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sport)
Iconic Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the 77-year-old proud father of the zone blitz still loves the game he played and coached for 56 consecutive seasons too much to retire.
So a distinguished era came to an inevitable end Saturday when the beloved coach and Hall-of-Fame former Detroit Lions cornerback resigned Saturday, according to a release from the Steelers. The move signals coach Mike Tomlin's intention to go younger and perhaps to more of a 4-3 scheme on defense.
"We want toii thank Dick for his many years of service with the team and all that he has done for this organization," Tomlin said. " His coaching helped lead us to many successful seasons and championships. We are very appreciative of his efforts, and we wish him well."
LeBeau favorites, aging safety Troy Polamalu, 33, and cornerback Ike Taylor, 34, are also expected to be gone this offseason after showing pronounced signs of slippage during injury-marred seasons.
Those moves weren't going to happen under LeBeau's watch.
So he chose to move on to the next chapter of a distinguished football life after discussions with Tomlin.
LeBeau characterized the move this way, saying "I'm resigning, I'm not retiring,'' in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after his decision to part ways with the Steelers was first reported by the Urbana (Ohio) Daily Citizen.
When the AFC North-winning Steelers were bounced in the playoffs by the Baltimore Ravens after quarterback Joe Flacco threw for two touchdowns and 259 yards against a patchwork secondary, the next step became clear.
It marked the second time since 2011 they were one-and-done in the wild-card round after missing the playoffs in 2012 and 2013.
Cornerback Cortez Allen was benched early this season after failing to live up to a five-year, $26-million contract signed the day before the season started. And free-agent safety Mike Mitchell was erratic for a secondary that relied on a patchwork of backups.
Young linebackers Jarvis Jones, a first-round pick in 2013, and Ryan Shazier, the Round 1 choice in 2014, were among the rare rookies to start under LeBeau. But both experienced their share of struggles amid the unit's decline.
LeBeau's defenses earned No. 1 rankings five times and he presided over two Super Bowl champions in 2005 and 2008. But this season's unit underachieved, finishing 18th overall, including 27th against the pass.
LeBeau was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 2010 with many of his Steelers players wearing his former Lions jersey number. LeBeau started as a Lions cornerback his rookie season in 1959 where he teamed with Dick "Night Train'' Lane, Yale Lary and Lem Barney to notch 62 career interceptions, a total that still ranks seventh all time.
LeBeau also served as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2000-2002.
Revered by his players, LeBeau said it was time to go in a different direction.
Tomlin, who kept LeBeau and his 3-4, fire-zone blitz scheme despite his own background coaching a Cover 2, 4-3 defense in Tampa Bay and as 2006 Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator when he replaced Bill Cowher in January, 2007, clearly felt it was time to go in a younger direction.
It will be interesting to see considering the Steelers could field one of the fastest three-man linebacking units with Lawrence Timmons, Jones and Shazier, who has 4.4-second speed for 40 yards.