James Harrison is ready to face the Steelers, but still misses Dick LeBeau
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010 for a career as a defensive back that spanned from 1959 through ’72. He amassed 62 interceptions for the Detroit Lions in those years, and if you prorate the passing numbers from LeBeau’s era into today’s high-octane offenses, it’s fair to wonder if he would have wound up with three digits in the picks department.
Certainly, LeBeau was great as a player because of his amazing game intelligence, and he’s taken that attribute into a coaching career that would have booked him in the Hall even if he’d never played a down — and if the Hall gave more credit to the league’s legendary assistant coaches through history.
As the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals in the early 1980s and later with the Pittsburgh Steelers, LeBeau became to the zone blitz what Bill Walsh is to the West Coast Offense. He may be the most influential defensive mind the game has ever seen, and if he’s not, he’s on a very short list. More than that, though, LeBeau is “Coach Dad” to his players — they don’t just love him because he makes them better players; they love him because he makes them better people. You hear that kind of mushy stuff a lot about coaches, but in LeBeau’s case, it’s 100 percent fact.
Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker James Harrison, who amassed 64 sacks and 29 forced fumbles under LeBeau’s Steelers tutelage from 2004 through ’12, and was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, is very much looking forward to facing his old team for the first time on Monday Night Football. But when MNF color man Jon Gruden asked Harrison to talk about LeBeau and his memories of his former coach, the normally contentious Harrison became unusually emotional.
“I miss him,” Harrison said after a long pause.
Asked to respond to Harrison’s take on what he had meant to his former player, LeBeau said, “That’s why I feel that I made the right professional choice.”
Would Harrison be seeking revenge against a team that cast him aside before the 2013 season? Harrison told Gruden that he’ll be more focused on his current job.
“I’m not going to be thinking about them, I’m going to be thinking about what I’ve got to do to beat them. It’s going to be about our execution and what we do, so that we can come out of this game with a win.”
Harrison now plays for Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, another assistant coach who engenders the universal respect of his players. And while Harrison will be part of a Bengals defense looking to tear apart Pittsburgh’s questionable offensive line, part of his heart will still be on the Steelers’ sideline, where “Coach Dad” is still dialing it up as well as anybody in the business.