When the Tennessee Titans officially announced the hiring of former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on Thursday, it added a layer of intrigue to outside linebacker James Harrison’s football future.
After the Steelers talked him out of retirement last season, Harrison showed he still can harass quarterbacks -- he finished third on the team with 5.5 sacks despite playing only 11 games -- which is why the five-time Pro Bowler did not rule out continuing his career shortly after Pittsburgh was knocked out of the AFC playoffs.
Harrison now has three potential options: return to the Steelers if they want him back, return to retirement where he has said he was content, or head to Tennessee with LeBeau, the Titans’ new assistant head coach/defense.
The Steelers appear ready to go all the way as far as getting younger on defense and may move on from Harrison despite his success last season and how potentially thin they are at outside linebacker with free agency looming.
If that is the case, it would be a fairly easy decision for Harrison to retire for good so he can devote himself to the two sons whose permission he sought before re-signing with the Steelers last September.
As difficult as it would be for Harrison to leave Pittsburgh, don’t underestimate the LeBeau factor if the Titans have an interest in Harrison.
Harrison is fiercely loyal to LeBeau, who talked coach Bill Cowher out of releasing Harrison in 2004 after the Steelers had signed him to provide training camp depth because of an injury sustained by Clark Haggans.
LeBeau told Cowher he would work with Harrison and that he saw something in the player who already had been released three times by the Steelers and four times overall.
No coach played a greater role in the enormous success Harrison enjoyed after finally sticking with the Steelers than LeBeau.
And their close relationship might make it tough for Harrison to say no if LeBeau asks the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year to join him in Tennessee.
The Titans are coming off a 2-14 season and may not have much interest in a player who turns 37 in May. But the example Harrison can set for teammates, particularly younger ones, with his incomparable work ethic might appeal to a struggling franchise.
And if last season is an indication, Harrison still has some football left in him.
Knowing he can still play and his allegiance to LeBeau makes the Titans Harrison’s most likely team in 2015 if he again puts retirement on hold.