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I-Want-Troy's-Hair
01-30-2009, 12:54 AM
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/cardinals/articles/2009/01/29/20090129spt-sblebeau.html

TAMPA - The Steelers' employee the Cardinals fear most in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday plays the guitar almost daily, writes songs, recites The Night Before Christmas by heart every year and rarely raises his voice beyond a conversational tone.

Dick LeBeau doesn't look like a guy who could strike fear in an opponent's heart, but the Steelers' defensive coordinator can cause opposing coaches more sleepless nights than a midnight pizza.

The Cardinals know that all too well. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was on the Steelers staff with LeBeau for three years, and saw what LeBeau did to his offense in practice, and to someone else's in games.

"I don't like Dick LeBeau very much," Whisenhunt joked on the day after the conference championship games.

Seriously, the two men have "as special a relationship as you can have," Whisenhunt said. "He's not one of those guys I'm excited about facing because of what he does and what he's meant to this game."

The two men were coordinators together for three years with the Steelers under former coach Bill Cowher. Practices turned into tutoring sessions for Whisenhunt and his offense.

In training camp, LeBeau emptied his playbook against the offense, using blitzes and stunts that would have driven other offensive coordinators crazy. Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, now with the Cardinals, embraced it.

"Some teams go to camp and they say, 'Can you just play a plain nickel defense until I get everyone on the same page?' " Grimm said. "But I'm just the opposite. Go ahead and bring it, we're going to see it during the year, let's start picking it up now."

Coordination

During the season, the two coordinators turned a weekly practice session into a test of wits and wills. At the end of every Wednesday practice, the Steelers used a third-down drill that consisted of five plays.

There were always winners and losers, although Whisenhunt believed Cowher, a defensive coach, often ruled in favor of that side.

"It was ultra, ultra competitive," said Cardinals backup quarterback Brian St. Pierre, formerly with the Steelers. "That was for bragging rights and to see who ran and who didn't have to run. That's where some of our gadget (plays) were born."

Whisenhunt's incorporated that same session into the Cardinals' Wednesday practices.

Whisenhunt talks about LeBeau with reverence, and for good reason. LeBeau has been in the game for 50 years - 14 years as a player and 36 as a coach. He should be a contender for the Pro Football Hall of Fame based solely on his playing career - his 62 interceptions are No. 7 on the all time list - and he should get there as a coach.

All LeBeau did was invent the zone blitz, a defensive scheme that every team uses in some form.

At 71, LeBeau shows no signs of slowing down and can still beat the pants off most people in golf.

He now takes his career year-by-year and said this week that since he would like to return in 2009 and that coach Mike Tomlin wants him back "it looks like we're good to go."

LeBeau is unassuming and understated. At media day this week, LeBeau was surrounded by reporters. He popped in a cough drop and answered questions, comfortable with the process, but not craving the attention.

Fete deserved

Earlier this season, the Steelers honored him at a game for his 50th anniversary in the NFL. LeBeau fought against the idea, partly because the Steelers were in a tight division race. But he was touched when all of his defensive players stayed after the game, in a driving rainstorm, to pay homage.

"The whole defense stayed out in the cold, which was very warming to me," LeBeau said.

When the Steelers hired Tomlin, there was some question of whether he would keep LeBeau. Tomlin's a defensive coach who ran the 4-3, not the 3-4 alignment that LeBeau prefers.

LeBeau wondered how things would turn out, too. When Tomlin called to say he wanted him back, "that was that," said LeBeau.

The two coaches have more in common than others thought. "Dick is a fundamentalist and I'm a fundamentalist," Tomlin said. "He makes the complex simple. He makes the irregular regular."

LeBeau's greatest quality, Tomlin said, is he remains curious about the job and doesn't pretend to know everything.

"He probably knows close to all of it, but he doesn't wear it," Tomlin said.