A Beautiful "D": The Man Behind the New Steel Curtain

Steeltown MikeCorrespondent IMay 28, 2009

PITTSBURGH - MAY 01:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches practice alongside defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau during rookie training camp at the Pittsburgh Steelers Practice Facility on May 1, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

In English, "LeBeau" translates to "The Beautiful One."

In Pittsburgh, nothing could be more beautiful than a defense that is at once smart and smash-mouth.

Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordinator Charles Richard "Dick" LeBeau represents a significant portion of the "smart".

LeBeau's most well-known creation is the Frankenstein's Monster called the "Zone Blitz," but the 71-year old NFL stalwart has had a career that spans generations. His 50-plus years in the league, both as a Pro Bowl player and a coach, has armed him with perhaps the greatest insight into the nuances of his craft.

He was a defensive back for the Detroit Lions from 1959 to 1974, and still holds the league record for most consecutive starts by a defensive back (171). He also still ranks in the top ten all-time in interceptions (62).

LeBeau was even a collegiate champion with Woody Hayes' 1957 Ohio State Buckeyes.

As a defensive coordinator, LeBeau has been to four Super Bowls (XXXIII with Cincinnati; XXX, XL, and XLIII with Pittsburgh) and made another trip with Cincinnati in 1981 as a defensive backs coach.

LeBeau has had two different stints with the Steelers. He was Bill Cowher's first defensive backs coach in 1992 and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1995. He left to join division rival Cincinnati in 1997.

He returned to the black-and-gold in 2004 and never looked back. In the past five seasons, the Steelers have not finished worse than third in defending the run, and only once finished worse than third in total defense. A plethora of his players have been selected to the Pro Bowl.

While LeBeau's success in Pittsburgh has helped nickname the Steel City "Blitzburgh", his famed "Zone Blitz" has its beginnings in Cincinnati.  It was designed to counter the quick-release style of the West Coast Offense which was gaining popularity in the late 1980s.

Despite the rough-and-tumble, zero-tolerance product LeBeau assembles on the field, it's difficult to find anyone with an unkind word to say about the man himself.  Some of his players call him "Coach Dad", and, virtually to a man, credit their success to his guidance.

Players say that Head Coach Mike Tomlin has given LeBeau more space to call plays than Cowher.  Tomlin himself affirmed this to the Associated Press, saying simply, "Dick is the guy."

Pittsburgh is the reigning Super Bowl champion entering the 2009 season, thanks in no small part to a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker James Harrison as the first half of Super Bowl XLIII expired.

LeBeau credits Harrison, though it was the play call itself that had Harrison drop back into coverage, instead of in his usual capacity as a pass rusher.  According to Harrison, all he had to do was "guess" which way Arizona Cardinals Quarterback Kurt Warner would throw the quick slant.

Intelligent.  Patient.  Modest.

It's a perfect storm of qualities that make up a man old enough to be a grandfather to some of his younger players, but young enough at heart to be on the field with them in spirit.  And Dick LeBeau will be guiding them for at least one more season.

For the city of Pittsburgh and its Steelers, it's a beautiful thing.