Dick LeBeau was hired as the Steelers' defensive coordinator in a move that brings back to…
LeBeau to turn up the heat
"Pittsburgh is like going home," he said over the phone from Cincinnati. "I must say I went to the University of Pittsburgh basketball game the night before I talked with Coach Bill (Cowher) and about 25 people said ‘Good luck tomorrow coach. Come on back.' I was thinking that this is pretty neat. I haven't been in this city for seven years and there are not very many towns in the country that would recognize me and be so supportive. That did make the whole thing feel like going back to a place where I had been before."
LeBeau will replace Tim Lewis and intends to recapture the aggressive characteristics that marked LeBeau's first stint in 1995-96.
"We will employ all 11 people to blitz," he said. "That is basic to the concept of zone pressure. You try to hold them by the nose and come around the back door. We are going to rush everybody."
LeBeau had been the Steelers' secondary coach from 1992-94 before being promoted to the coordinator position during the Super Bowl season of 1995. He left after the 1996 season to hold the same position with the Cincinnati Bengals, and did so because he has a home in Cincinnati, his son was graduating high school and because of differences with Cowher.
Those differences have obviously been resolved.
"I have worked with Bill and I know that Bill is involved in the defense," LeBeau said. "I will say this about him: Any coach who would not want Coach Cowher's input, with the background and success that he has had on defense, I think would be cutting his own nose off in spite of his face. He is an excellent defensive coach. We have been together before and we have always worked together. I welcome his input."
Cowher is a defensive-minded head coach who's not shy about criticizing a coordinator's game plans and play calls both during and after games. But LeBeau brings an uncommon expertise to the Steelers' zone-blitzing 3-4 scheme since he designed the defense when he was an assistant coach with the Bengals in the late 1980s.
The zone blitz blossomed into the fad defense of the 1990s after LeBeau joined the Steelers, who finished third and second in the league in overall defense in 1995 and 1996, respectively.
LeBeau was asked Friday whether the zone blitz in general has lost its effectiveness.
"I think in the earlier days, sometimes, we would just completely dominate the game with it because people were not familiar with it," he said. "I don't think those situations evolve too often anymore, but you can't put on a video, be it college, high school or professional and not see the zone blitz being evoked. The defense is very popular because it is productive and it is sound and it is a safer way to pressure. The offenses are more familiar with it and they have some answers. Of course, our objective is to make those answers the wrong answers."
He plans to do so with a return to the Steelers' attacking style of the 1990s.
"Philosophically, Coach Bill and I have always been on the same page, and that is attack," he said. "We will be a pressure defense and I know the head coach feels that way too."
Does LeBeau believe the Steelers have a secondary competent enough to allow for more blitzing?
"Yes I do," he said. "I think obviously everybody wants to improve. It's not like the defense has not been productive in some areas. Obviously, if everything was where we all wanted it in Pittsburgh than we would be number one in the league and we would still be playing.
"We think we have work to do. We are not going to kid ourselves about that, but we think it's a very do-able enterprise and we think the athletes there play hard and many times play very well."
With the position filled, Cowher has only one more defensive assistant to hire. He'll likely promote Darren Perry to defensive backs coach, but no announcement has been made.
Perry was the franchise's first assistant defensive backs coach last season. A former assistant with the Chicago Bears – defensive backs coach Vance Bedford – interviewed with Cowher on Friday for an unnamed position.
The Steelers also need to hire an offensive coordinator. They're expected to interview an outside candidate or two before settling on either tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt or offensive line coach Russ Grimm next week.
The Steelers may have indicated to whom they were leaning Friday by interviewing former Steelers wide receiver Dwight Stone for the position of tight ends/assistant special teams coach. It's the same duties Whisenhunt has held the past three seasons with the Steelers, who also interviewed Todd Haley for the position of wide receivers coach.
Haley was with the Bears last season. He's the third candidate this week to be interviewed for the position. Previously, the Steelers met with Larry Kirksey and Tyke Tolbert.
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