Criticism of Dick LeBeau misguided

PITTSBURGH -- So Dick LeBeau, who has forgotten more football than any armchair coach will ever know, suddenly belongs in the back of the classroom with a dunce cap on his head?

Dick LeBeau, who presided over the No. 1 defense in total yards each of the last two seasons, has forgotten how to coach in the space of a year and needs to be ushered into retirement?


Steelers coach Mike Tomlin gave the appropriate response Tuesday when asked why he still has faith in LeBeau.

There was no need for the seventh-year to elaborate beyond, "Because he's Dick LeBeau."

Indeed, the man's body of work as a coach is astounding.

Since LeBeau returned as the team's defensive coordinator in 2004 the Steelers lead the NFL in a laundry list of defensive categories, including scoring, rushing and total yards.

He would be the first to admit that great players were the primary reason for such success -- from mammoth nose tackle Casey Hampton clogging the middle of the line to safety Troy Polamalu making plays all over the field and a succession of outside linebackers tormenting opposing quarterbacks.

LeBeau would also be the last to say what has become painfully obvious: Personnel, not schemes, are the biggest reason why the Steelers' defense has plummeted this season.

The Steelers simply have not been able to replace players like the aforementioned ones as well as others such as linebackers James Farrior and James Harrison, which is why their defense is middling at best right now.

The Steelers derived the sustained success they enjoyed from a simple formula: They always seemed to have an impact player ready to take over when another one left or retired, particularly on defense.

That assembly line has been in some disrepair, and it is fair to question how well the Steelers are drafting and developing young players.

But to scapegoat LeBeau for the Steelers' defensive woes is ludicrous.

Yes, he is 76, but the only proof of that can be found on his birth certificate. LeBeau looks like he is 20 years younger and still has the energy and passion needed to succeed at this level.

The ones who aren't questioning LeBeau are the those at Steelers' headquarters and, most importantly, the players in the locker room.

Their respect for him is hard to put into words, and, to a man, each would try to tackle an oncoming train for their beloved coach.

Who knows what LeBeau's plans are after this season or if the Steelers will bring him back despite Tomlin's retort on whether his faith in LeBeau has wavered.

But LeBeau has earned the right to return next season if he wants to, and not because of his body of work but because the man can still coach.