Coaching helped LeBeau to HOF

Dick LeBeau -- the player and longtime defensive back for the Detroit Lions -- was voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday.

But make no mistake: It was LeBeau's lengthy and stellar coaching career which, directly or indirectly, helped get him over the hump.

LeBeau, 72, was a senior committee nominee. He will join an impressive 2010 class that includes Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Russ Grimm, John Randle, Rickey Jackson and fellow senior nominee Floyd Little.

For many years, the Hall of Fame panel debated the merits of LeBeau's playing career, which is fair. He recorded 62 interceptions and made three Pro Bowls during his 14-year career.

But LeBeau, a first-time finalist, didn't become a better player since he retired in 1972. It was LeBeau's continual contributions to pro football after retirement that made his induction into Canton undeniable.

LeBeau is the most accomplished defensive coordinator in NFL history. He invented the "zone blitz," which helped win Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 and 2008. LeBeau also made it to three additional Super Bowls as a coach with Pittsburgh in 1995 and the Cincinnati Bengals in 1981 and 1988.

When the Hall of Fame panel had to vote "yes" or "no" on LeBeau the player, LeBeau the coach and overall contributor had to weigh on the back of voters’ minds whether they admit it or not.

I remember covering last year's Super Bowl between the Steelers and Arizona Cardinals when conversations about LeBeau and the Hall of Fame really began to heat up.

The talk had nothing to do with LeBeau's playing career, which ended more than three decades ago. But it had everything to do with LeBeau once again coaching an elite defense into the Super Bowl and how much he added to the game throughout his career. Ending the week by winning his second championship as defensive coordinator only added to his resume.

As a player and coach, a strong case can be made that no one has dedicated more of his life to pro football than Dick LeBeau. This summer pro football will return the favor and give its highest honor by inducting LeBeau into the Hall of Fame.