Steelers sing LeBeau's praises
The architect of the NFL's top-ranked defense remains as overlooked now as his playing career has been taken for granted by Pro Football Hall of Fame voters through the years.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he couldn't care less.
"It's the quality of men we have playing for us - I'm blessed to coach them,'' said LeBeau, whose unit ranks No. 1 in the league in total defense for the second consecutive season.
"It's their effort, their execution. All I do is call the defense. They're the people that make it happen.''
LeBeau has earned the respect of his players.
"It's been the greatest joy of my career,'' defensive end Brett Keisel said of working with LeBeau. "Since he came here, I think it really lifted all of us up. We all just really respect him.''
Defensive captain James Farrior also praised LeBeau.
"He's the general," Farrior said. "He's the guy who puts it all together. That's why we all love him.''
Another testimonial comes from linebacker Larry Foote.
"Coach LeBeau is in our corner," he said. "He listens to the players. If we don't like something, he'll throw it away. When he comes with that love and respect, you have no choice but to give it right back.''
To a man, LeBeau's defensive players believe he should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. When the Steelers played in the Hall of Fame Game in Mike Tomlin's first game as coach, some of the players honored LeBeau by wearing special jerseys bearing his name and number.
"Last year, when we played in Canton, they showed me I was on their Hall of Fame team," LeBeau said. "That's the only team I want to be on.''
Cornerback Ike Taylor's career probably mirrors LeBeau's more than any Steeler player. Both played running back in college before switching to cornerback full-time in the pros. Both were selected late in the draft -- LeBeau was a fifth-round pick; Taylor a fourth-round selection.
Taylor credits LeBeau for his development as a top-flight defensive back.
"We play for ourselves. We play for our families. We play for each other. We play because we represent this organization. But we play for coach LeBeau,'' said Taylor, the only defensive back to start every game since the Steelers became the league's top-ranked defense last season.
Taylor said he reached a comfort zone with LeBeau, who compiled 62 career interceptions in 14 NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions.
"He's probably harder on the corners because he played the position," said Taylor, a fourth-year starter. "I kind of had to win coach LeBeau over, me being an athlete. Coach LeBeau is a technician. Throughout the years, he just kept preaching to me, 'Work on your technique, your game will be better.' ''
LeBeau, though, refuses to take credit.
"Ike Taylor's production and steady play is because of Ike Taylor,'' LeBeau said. "He put in the time and the hours necessary to hone his skills. He's one of the best tackling corners in the league, and I don't think he gets enough credit for that.''
LeBeau added: "Perhaps I can help those guys because I learned the hard way from getting burned so many times myself. It's amazing what we learn to hold our position and how we learn to do it -- basically, trial and error in my case. It still holds up pretty doggone well.''
LeBeau's coaching philosophy resonates with his players.
"It seems like we've been in the top five in defense for the past 6-7 years," said Keisel, a starter since 2006, who had a career-high 11 tackles against the New York Giants last Sunday. "It's a place where we expect to be. It's a place where we work hard to be.''
Foote, who has started every game since 2004, appreciates LeBeau's strategic ability.
"If he gets into a chess match with offensive coordinators, he's just that much better than his competition,'' Foote said.
Farrior, long regarded as the Steelers' most consistent tackler, is another one of LeBeau's favorites.
"Coach LeBeau knows the game,'' Farrior said. "He's been around it for 50 years as a player and coach. When he talks, everybody listens.''
A soft-spoken teacher, LeBeau rarely yells when making a point to his players. When he does, they don't take it personally.
"It's not often that he yells at you - he gets me once a year,'' Taylor said. "It means you're in trouble, you ain't doing something right. At the same time, I understand coach LeBeau.''
LeBeau also understands his players and how each of them contributes to the league's top-ranked defense.
"Our goals are top-10 in all categories,'' LeBeau said. "If we can meet those goals, we'll play pretty good defense and give our guys a chance to win.
"They're as unselfish a group of athletes as I've ever been around. They don't really care who gets the sack, they don't care who makes the big play. They fight and play together. I'm proud of them.''