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LeBeau wants to come back as Steelers defensive coordinator

| Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, 10:21 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau on the sidelines 2013 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Dick LeBeau's coaching resume might be unmatched by any defensive coordinator in NFL history. If it's up to him, it won't end with the Steelers' disappointing 2013 season.

LeBeau said Thursday he wants to coach for a 42nd season in 2014, and he hopes the Steelers want him back to run a defense that has led almost every major statistical category since 2004.

“I've been blessed to be able to coach this long, and I want to coach, obviously. Because I am a coach,” said LeBeau, who will be 77 at the start of next season. “Again, we'll have to see if people want you to coach.”

LeBeau's contract situation isn't known, but the Steelers' approach long has been that if he wanted to remain in coaching, they wanted him to be their defensive coordinator. If he had ever left, he likely would have had multiple coordinator offers, even at his age.

“He's revered as a coach,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “You hear so many things (from other NFL players), ‘Oh, you're part of a Dick LeBeau defense.' ”

But the Steelers are 13-16 over the past two seasons, and many core defensive players likely will be gone soon, perhaps as early as next season — Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Larry Foote among them. James Harrison and Casey Hampton left after last season.

But LeBeau, the team's defensive coordinator for 10 seasons following a two-year run in 1995-96, said an exodus of the players he coached through multiple Super Bowls wouldn't be a reason to retire, just like it wasn't when James Farrior and Aaron Smith were released after the 2011 season.

“In 2004 we went 15-1 and I think we had defensive numbers that are off the charts,” LeBeau said. “But there is almost no one around here that was on the 2004 team. So we've gone through this progression and turnover. It's part of the National Football League.”

Foote said “there hasn't been even as much as a rumor” among the defensive players that LeBeau might not return. Several players said LeBeau has not discussed the subject with them.

“A lot of us would not have had the careers we've had if it weren't for him,” Clark said. “He's the type of coach that stands up for his guys and sticks up for and loves his players. He's an identity. He's an attitude.”

Rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones has marveled at LeBeau's knowledge, his ability to teach and the respect he has for his players.

“He brings energy every day, (especially) for a guy that is his age and has been doing it for as long as he has,” Jones said. “It's got to motivate you, just to play for a guy like him, a Hall of Fame coach.”

LeBeau prefers not to talk about his situation but is aware it will be an issue as the end of a season approaches, if only because of his age.

“This is the time only to think about our players and getting them better,” LeBeau said. “But I feel great. I feel strong, and we'll see if people want you to come back.”

Asked if he thinks what retirement might be like — he has been an NFL player or coach for 55 years — LeBeau said, “This is a very time-consuming profession. There is no offseason anymore. … We're all mortal, and you have to understand that, but it doesn't come into play too much because I'm too busy.”

And when does Foote think LeBeau will stop coaching?

“When they carry him out in a box,” he said, laughing.

“He's a pretty smart man. That's one thing I've always liked about him,” LeBeau said when told of Foote's comment. “He's a very intelligent player.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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