The story behind Carnell Lake’s return as Pittsburgh’s secondary coach did not just mark the return of a second defender from the Steelers 1989 draft class to the Steelers coaching staff.
Lake’s latest career move also confirms a latent transformation of the NFL’s defensive coaching landscape – the formation of a nascent Dick LeBeau coaching tree.
Coach Dad’s Offspring
Dick LeBeau has long been recognized as one of the revolutionary minds in defensive football. Just as Bill Walsh’s “West Coast offense” spawned two generations of offensive coordinators and any number of Super Bowl Titles, Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz and fire zones have served as an equally effective counter.
Dick LeBeau’s players have always held him in high esteem, giving him the title “Coach Dad.” Perhaps the title is fitting, because “Coach Dad” is populating the NFL’s assistant coaching ranks with his off spring.
Pundits usually tie coaching tress to head coaches. While the concept is entertaining, coaching tress frequently get distorted, resulting in such foolishness as Wikipedia entries that put Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin on the “Bill Walsh” coaching tree when Dungy and Tomlin clearly belong on Chuck Noll’s coaching tree.
But a quick look reveals that no fewer than 8 of LeBeau’s former players have follow his footsteps on to the NFL sidelines as a coach. Scroll down or click on the links below for more:
Current Position: Defensive backs coach, Green Bay Packers
Years Played for LeBeau: 1992-1996,
Years Coached for LeBeau: 2002 (with Bengals), 2004-2006
It would be unfair to call Darren Perry a Bonafied Dick LeBeau production, but it certainly seems that way. Drafted in the 8th round of the 1992 draft, LeBeau’s first year with the Steelers as DB’s coach, Perry’s development made Thomas Everett, a training camp hold out, expendable.
Perry may have lacked the pure athleticism of his then secondary and current coaching peer Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake, but he had a knack for the ball hauling down 32 interceptions in his seven straight years as a starter.
Perry coached with LeBeau during Coach Dad’s final year as Bengals head coach. Perry then joined Bill Cowher’s staff, first as assistant DB’s coach, and then as DB’s coach. Ironically, Mike Tomlin decided not to hire Perry, who caught on with Dom Caper’s defense in Green Bay, where Perry ended up coaching the DB’s who picked off two Pittsburgh passes in Super Bowl XLV.
Current Position: Defensive Assistant, Pittsburgh Steelers
Years Played for LeBeau: 1992-1996
Years Coached for LeBeau: 2010
Jerry Olsavksy is a favorite here at Steel Curtain Rising. His exploits are celebrated in our recap of the Steelers 1989 draft was well as at various points in the tribute to the 1989 Steelers, specifically in recap of how he faced down the Nigerian Nightmare as a rookie.
Olsavsky made it in the NFL because he wanted it. It is equally clear that the same burning desire fuels him into coaching. He tried unsuccessfully to land a spot on Bill Cowher’s staff a number of times, volunteered at a couple of high schools and then at Duquesne, worked as strength coach at North Carolina State, until finally landing a job at coaching linebackers at Youngstown State.
Current Position: Assistant coach, Steamboat Springs High School
Years Played for LeBeau: 1983-1991
Years Coached with LeBeau: 1997-2002
Other Coaching Positions: Bills, 2003-2005; Chiefs 2006-2009
The only man with no connection on to the Steelers on this list – and perhaps that’s fitting as he is one of the few Bengals of “recent” memory who can reminisce with his grand kids about beating up on the Steelers with any regularity.
Krumrie coached several defensive lines that accomplished little and now coaches in the high school ranks. But that isn’t necessarily a knock on his coaching abilities. The overall won-lost records of the teams in question suggest that he had little talent to work with.
Current Position: Linebackers coach, Green Bay Packers
Years Played for LeBeau: 1993-1995
Of the group, Kevin Greene’s roots back to the LeBeau coaching tree run the shallowest, as LeBeau only coached Greene for 3 of his 15 NFL seasons, and in only one of those was LeBeau Greene’s defensive coordinator. That year also marked Greene’s only appearance in the Super Bowl. Coincidence? Don’t bet on it.
Current Position: Linebackers coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Years Played for LeBeau: 1992-1996
“Coach Lloyd” might seem like an odd moniker for someone who played like he was Fury Incarnate, but such analysis sells Greg Lloyd short. Yes, Greg Lloyd made a name for himself with his force and intensity. But as Jerry Olsavksy once pointed out in the Steelers Digest, Lloyd played most of his career with both knees basically held together with staples.
Absent the athletic gifts of Lake and Woodson, the only way Lloyd could have made the impact he did was through serious study of the game. And LeBeau was one of his teachers.
Rod Woodson was one of the most gifted-athletes to don the Black and Gold. It is said that great athletes rarely make good coaches. But Rod Woodson was also a student of the game. Like Lloyd, Woodson had the privilege of being coached by a veritable “Who’s Who” of later 20th Century defensive coaches: Tony Dungy, Rod Rust, Dom Capers, Dick LeBeau, and Marv Lewis. It is hard not to hail Woodson’s return to the NFL, even if it is for the arch-rival Raiders.
Current Position: Secondary coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Years Played for LeBeau: 1992-1996
Corners move to become safeties all of the time. Rarely, if ever, do safeties shift over to become corners. Lake did that in 1995 and the Steelers landed in the Super Bowl because of it.
While Lake’s athleticism is what allowed the move to be made, his football acumen is what allowed the move to succeed. And you can better believe that Dick LeBeau’s role in managing the transition didn’t hurt either.
Current Position: Defensive Coordinator, Arizona Cardinals
Years Played for LeBeau: 1983-1988 (with Bengals)
Years Coached with LeBeau: 1997-2001 (with Bengals), 2004-2010
Ray Horton may or may not succeed in his new role as defensive coordinator of Pittsburgh West, but if he fails it will not be for lack of LeBeau’s affection. LeBeau hired Horton in 1997 as soon as he returned to take the reigns as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator. LeBeau followed suit when he returned to Pittsburgh in 2004, bringing Horton back to assist Darren Perry, and then having Horton replace Perry. Clearly, LeBeau likes Horton – now its time to see if he can fly on his own.
From One Seed, Eight Branches…
These eight men hail from distinct parts of the country, played for different colleges, held roster spots for varying teams and, in some cases, saw their best action in separate eras. A multitude of voices can be credited as formative influences on their careers.
But any analysis of these men’s twisting career paths reveals two constants:
Each man currently makes his living coaching football, and each man was coached by Dick LeBeau. And that, as much as any of his any other accomplishments, serves as a testament to Dick LeBeau’s greatness.