Charles Richard LeBeau ( ; born September 9, 1937) is a former American football cornerback
and coach in the National Football League
(NFL). LeBeau was active with the NFL for 59 consecutive seasons, 14 as a player with the Detroit Lions
and 45 as a coach.
He spent the majority of his coaching career as a defensive assistant, most notably as the defensive coordinator
of the Cincinnati Bengals
and Pittsburgh Steelers
. Described as an "innovator" and "defensive football genius", he is considered to be one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time.
LeBeau was selected by the Cleveland Browns
in the fifth round of the 1959 NFL Draft
before signing with the Lions, where he spent the entirety of his playing career and was named to three Pro Bowl
s. Upon retiring as a player in 1972, he began his coaching career the following season as the special teams coach of the Philadelphia Eagles
before landing his first defensive role as the Green Bay Packers
' defensive backs coach in 1976. LeBeau joined the Bengals in 1980 where he spent 19 nonconsecutive years, including 12 years as defensive coordinator. During his first stint as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator, he popularized the "zone blitz
", which helped the Bengals make two Super Bowl
appearances in Super Bowl XVI
and Super Bowl XXIII
. He also served as the Bengals' head coach
from 2000 to 2002, his only head coaching position.
In between his two stints with Cincinnati, LeBeau began a defensive assistant tenure for the Steelers in 1992 and rejoined them in 2004 after one season as the Buffalo Bills
' assistant head coach. His time in Pittsburgh spanned 16 nonconsecutive years, holding the position of defensive coordinator for 13 years. LeBeau helped the Steelers make four Super Bowl appearances while serving as their defensive coordinator, winning Super Bowl XL
and Super Bowl XLIII
during his second stint. After leaving the Steelers for a second time in 2014, LeBeau served as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach of the Tennessee Titans
until 2017. He was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
LeBeau attended Ohio State University
playing for famed coach Woody Hayes
, and was on the 1957 national championship team
, playing as a halfback on offense and a cornerback
on defense. Also in 1957, playing both sides of the ball, he scored two touchdowns as Ohio State came back to beat Michigan
He was initially drafted in the fifth round in 1959 by the Cleveland Browns
but was cut in training camp. A few months later, he was signed by the Detroit Lions
. He played 14 seasons in Detroit and was teamed with Hall of Famers Dick "Night Train" Lane
, Yale Lary
, and Lem Barney
as part of a Detroit secondary that was one of the most feared in the NFL. Johnny Unitas
always had respect for him, stating, "Dick is a good corner. I am just glad Night Train Lane is gone."
LeBeau is widely considered to be one of the greatest defensive backs in Lions history. He recorded 62 interceptions for 762 yards and four touchdowns. His 62 interceptions are still a Lions franchise record, and he is tied for seventh all-time in NFL history. His 762 interception return yards ranks third all-time in team history.
LeBeau was also one of the most durable players in the league. In 14 years, he played 185 games – placing him fourth on Detroit's all-time list. He is third all-time for most seasons played (14) and previously held the NFL record for consecutive appearances by a cornerback with 171, which has since been broken by Ronde Barber. He also recovered nine fumbles, returning them for 53 yards and a touchdown.
During his career, he earned three trips to the Pro Bowl (1964–1966). In 1970, LeBeau established a career-high nine interceptions (tied for sixth on the team’s all-time single-season interceptions list). He was a major defensive contributor to the Lions finishing with a 10–4 record that season. The Lions finished second in the NFC Central and earned a berth in the playoffs.
In 2010, LeBeau was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with running back Floyd Little
LeBeau was honored by the Lions and inducted into the Pride of the Lions in 2010.
After retirement as a player, LeBeau immediately went into coaching with the Philadelphia Eagles
as a special teams
coach under coach Mike McCormack
, spending three seasons in Philadelphia. In 1976
, LeBeau coached the secondary for the Green Bay Packers
under Pro Football Hall of Fame
QB Bart Starr
. In his first season, Willie Buchanon
, Johnnie Gray
, Steve Luke
, and Perry Smith
combined for 10 interceptions. In 1977, Mike C. McCoy replaced Smith, and that quartet combined for 11 interceptions. In 1979, Estus Hood replaced Buchanan, and the secondary combined for another 11 interceptions.
First stint with the Cincinnati Bengals
, LeBeau became the Cincinnati Bengals
' secondary coach; in that season, his starting secondary intercepted seven passes.
had an outstanding defense that had not given up more than 30 points in any of their regular season or playoff games. Their line was anchored by defensive ends Ross Browner
and Eddie Edwards
, who were effective at stopping the run. Cincinnati's defense was also led by defensive backs Louis Breeden
and Ken Riley
and linebackers Bo Harris
, Jim LeClair
, and Reggie Williams
, who intercepted four passes and recovered three fumbles. The Bengals intercepted 19 passes for 318 yards and also recorded 41 total sacks. The Bengals played in their first AFC Championship Game, defeating San Diego
27–7, limiting the Chargers' offense to only 7 points. In Super Bowl XVI
, the Bengals trailed 20–0 at halftime and lost to San Francisco
In 1984, LeBeau was promoted to be the Bengals' defensive coordinator. His defenses rarely allowed more than 30 points in a game to an opponent. In 1984, his first season as defensive coordinator, the Bengals dropped from the top-ranked defense in 1983 (when they were coordinated by Hank Bullough) to 13th, allowing 339 points all season. In 1985, they dropped from 13th to 22nd. In 1986, points allowed were cut to 394 and the team finished with the 20th-ranked defense in the NFL. In 1987, they cut the points allowed to 370.
, the Bengals
defense ranked 17th in the league, allowing 5,556 yards and 329 points during the regular season. Cincinnati had a superb defensive line, led by pro bowl defensive tackle Tim Krumrie
, along with linemen Jim Skow
(nine-and-a-half sacks), David Grant
(five sacks), and Jason Buck
(six sacks). Pro Bowl defensive backs Eric Thomas
and David Fulcher
combined for 12 interceptions. The team won the AFC Central Division with a 12–4 record but lost Super Bowl XXIII
to the San Francisco 49ers
for the second time in franchise history. The following season, 1989, the Bengals defense was 15th in the NFL, an improvement of two spots and was in the top half of NFL defenses due to LeBeau's scheme. In 1990 and 1991 the Bengals' defense ranked 25th and 28th respectively, out of 28 teams, and the team made a change in defensive coordinators.
First stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers
LeBeau was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers
as the secondary coach. In 1994
, four defensive players were called to play in the 1995 Pro Bowl
, Carnell Lake
, Greg Lloyd
and Rod Woodson
). As a secondary coach LeBeau strongly influenced Lake and Woodson.
In 1995, LeBeau was promoted to be the defensive coordinator and the 1995 Pittsburgh defense ranked third in the league in total yards allowed after they had finished as the second ranked defense in 1994 in that same category, so the drop off was minimal with LeBeau at the helm. They did allow 327 points in 1995 as opposed to 234 the year before when the Steelers defense was coordinated by Dom Capers, but they got to the Super Bowl in 1995 with a much improved offense. Pro Bowl linebacker Kevin Greene
led the team in sacks with nine, while Pro Bowl linebacker Greg Lloyd
led the team in tackles with 86. The secondary was led by Pro Bowl defensive backs Carnell Lake
and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson
. The Steelers lost to the Dallas Cowboys
in Super Bowl XXX
, making it the third Super Bowl loss for him.
Second stint with the Bengals
In 1997, LeBeau returned to the Bengals as defensive coordinator. The defense was ranked 25th in 1996, and in his first year back they dropped to 28th and allowed just over 400 points. In 1998 they remained 28th in the NFL (of 30 teams) and allowed 452 points. In 1999 the zone blitz scheme began to take hold and although the Bengals defense allowed 460 points, they improved to 25th in the NFL (out of 31 teams).
LeBeau was named interim head coach for the Bengals in 2000 following head coach Bruce Coslet
's resignation during the 2000 season. Following the season, he was named permanent head coach.
Despite LeBeau's considerable defensive coaching talent, his offenses were not nearly as successful as head coach, and his teams finished 4–9, 6–10 and 2–14, respectively, in his three seasons. His overall record as a head coach was 12–33. He was fired after the 2002 season.
Shortly after being fired by the Bengals, LeBeau was named the Buffalo Bills
's assistant head coach.
Second stint with the Steelers
LeBeau returned to the Steelers in 2004 as their defensive coordinator. He was the Steelers defensive coordinator until 2014. During this time frame, LeBeau coached the Steelers to 3 Super Bowl appearances, winning 2. LeBeau was named "Coordinator of the year" by the ''Sporting News
'' for the 2008 season
. On January 10, 2015, LeBeau resigned as defensive coordinator of the Steelers.
A month after resigning from the Steelers, he was hired as the assistant head coach/defense of the Tennessee Titans
On January 20, 2016, the Titans officially named LeBeau assistant head coach/defensive coordinator after the departure of Ray Horton
to the Cleveland Browns
. Said LeBeau, "I like Tennessee a lot. I really love being here." On January 22, 2018, it was reported that LeBeau was considering retirement after not being retained after head coach Mike Mularkey
and the Tennessee Titans agreed to part ways and Houston Texans'
defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel
was hired as the new head coach. Although LeBeau was open to returning to the Titans under Vrabel, the Titans decided to not invite him to be part of their new coaching staff.
Legacy, defensive strategy
As an assistant coach he is credited with inventing the "Fire Zone" or "zone blitz" defense, which employs unpredictable pass rushes and pass coverage from various players. His defenses typically employ 3–4 sets
, with any of the four linebackers (and frequently a defensive back) among the pass rushers, while defensive linemen may drop back into short pass coverage zones to compensate for the pass rush coming from other positions. The design is intended to confuse the opposition's quarterback and frustrate its blocking schemes. Since zone blitzes don't identify ''any'' of the prospective rushers, the offense may be unsure on each play of which defenders will rush the passer and which will drop into coverage. While often described as a "blitzing" scheme (implying more than the typical number of four pass rushers used by most defenses), the call on any particular "zone blitz" play may involve only three or four pass rushers but from unpredictable positions and angles.
LeBeau is beloved among his players, many of whom refer to him as "Coach Dad." Steelers players have given him many gifts, including a Rolex watch.
Head coaching record
LeBeau acted in the 1970 film ''Too Late the Hero
'', where he played Michael Caine
's double in a scene.
LeBeau is said to regularly recite A Visit from St. Nicholas
by heart to his players every Christmas season. LeBeau credits his London High School coach, Jim Bowlus, with influencing him to taking up coaching after his playing years ended. LeBeau says seeing the effect that Coach Bowlus had on him and his teammates clinched it for him at that point.
Dick has four children with his first wife, Phyllis Geer LeBeau, who passed away from cancer in 2002: Richard Jr, Linda, Lori, and Fe. He has been married to his current wife, Nancy, since 1973
and they have one son together, Brandon Grant LeBeau.
LeBeau attended the American Legion Ohio Buckeye Boys State program in 1954 as a delegate. On June 10, 2019, LeBeau was inducted into the Buckeye Boys State Hall of Fame.
Category:American football cornerbacks
Category:American football safeties
Category:Buffalo Bills coaches
Category:Cincinnati Bengals coaches
Category:Cincinnati Bengals head coaches
Category:Detroit Lions players
Category:Green Bay Packers coaches
Category:Ohio State Buckeyes football players
Category:Philadelphia Eagles coaches
Category:Pittsburgh Steelers coaches
Category:Tennessee Titans coaches
Category:National Football League defensive coordinators
Category:Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees
Category:Western Conference Pro Bowl players
Category:People from London, Ohio
Category:Players of American football from Ohio