Q & A with Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau

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Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau recently did a conference call with the Detroit media. The following is what LeBeau had to say.

On how his playing career with the Lions helped him develop as a coach: "It helped me immeasurably. I had Joe Schmidt for my head coach and he also was my teammate, I'd say for 6 or 7 years my teammate and 6 or 7 years my head coach. I think he's one of the best players and coaches that ever came down the pike, and that was good background me to go into coaching and Jim David was our defensive coordinator and he was big pressure guy. He liked to blitz the quarterback, and of course that's kind of my philosophy, so I'd say those two guys helped me a lot."

On what it would be like to join Yale Lary, Lem Barney, and 'Night Train' Lane in the Hall of Fame: Oh, I think it would pretty neat. I think it's great that the three that are in there are in there. They were surely three of the best football players that every played. 'Night Train' and Lem at the corner and then Yale was a great safety and a tremendous punter, I think the best punter I've ever seen. And Joe is in the hall of fame too, so yeah, we've got some hall of fame guys there from my group. But it would be unusually great if we could get that fourth guy in there, I wouldn't be against that."

On waiting a long time to be seriously considered for the Hall of Fame:  "To be honest with you, I never thought that much about it. I was grateful for my career and I was very grateful that I got to play for one of the real foundation franchises in the National Football League and one of the finest families in America, and it was just a great experience and my teammates were tremendous both players and people. I don't think that I'm the kind of guy that would be walking around saying I ought to be in the hall of fame, so I never really thought about it, and it's the type of honor that's almost too good to be true. So if it happens, great, but I don't think you ever really think that you should be in there. I just was grateful for my career and the people I played with."

On how he ended up with the Lions: "I had a scholarship at Ohio State but the majority of my scholarship was academic. I had to maintain a certain grade point as I recall to keep that, but we managed to do that. I didn't have a scholarship there and I was drafted the second round in the National Football League, but there were only 12 teams then so that really would have been the first round now. I was drafted by Cleveland and I was the last guy released off that team. And the Lions brought me up, and I think the seventh game of that first year they put me on the team, and there I stayed for the next 14 years."

On what he did for the seven weeks before he was activated: "I practiced. In those days they actually called it the 'taxi squad' because I think it originated that the guys that did that drove taxis, and I fortunately came after that brigade but I learned the defense, practiced, and then they activated me."

On if joining Detroit was his last shot at a pro football career: "I had a couple places that wanted me to come in and do the same thing, and I went to Detroit because Hop Cassidy was there, who had been a teammate and Heisman trophy winner at Ohio State, he was older than I, and it was pretty close to home. In the '50s they had been a very, very good football franchise and won several world championships and several divisional titles, so it was a good outfit and I thought a good choice. I never thought about doing anything but succeeding."

On current Lions LB Larry Foote and what it meant to lose him: "Well, I don't know what he means in Detroit, but I know that he was a great player for us and he was like a coach on the field. We surely didn't want to lose him, we hated to lose him, but in the 2000s in the NFL rosters change continually, and we wish Larry the very best, but he was never in the wrong position and very definitely a playmaker and a great competitor. He was a great leader in the locker room, he was everything you'd want in a player, and I know he'll do a good job for the Lions."

On whether he has a favorite Larry Foote story: "No. It just seemed like the more important the game, the better Larry would play. He always played well and he got a lot of his interceptions in the playoff games. He was a very good blitzer. He was so smart. He always knew formation tendencies. He was a joy to coach."

On his relationship with Larry Foote: "Well I respect Larry very much and I think the feeling is mutual, I hope so. He was our player and I was our coach so that was our relationship. I owe my guys a lot. They put my jersey on when we played in Canton. They've spoken of me continually and played well enough to keep my name fairly current and I owe that all to our defensive players and Larry was one of our best."

On whether the Hall of Fame vote is more on his mind now that it is four months away: "Well of course since you've made it through the first phase of selection there and got on the ballot, that in itself is a tremendous honor and you can't help but think about it a little bit. I'm fortunate to be involved in coaching and pretty busy, too busy to worry about things like that and really it's a situation that's out of my control anyhow and all you can do is hope. I'm very flattered to have made it onto that final ballot and what happens will happen. Yeah you think about it some, but I'm lucky enough to be busy enough to not think about it that much."

On what he is most proud of from his accomplishments in the game: "My consecutive games played record. I think that says that I was a guy who would come to work and go play every week and didn't have to be in perfect health to play. I would play and tried to do the best job I could for my teammates and my team. That's pretty much the way I've approached work throughout my life. I'm very proud of that. In fact that's the only thing from playing that I ever talk about, is playing in the 170-some straight games, whatever it was. It's a lot for a corner; I'll tell you that."

On any times he almost broke his streak of consecutive games played: "I had a sprained knee one time and I thought surely I wouldn't be able to make it with that but I was blessed in that I did have a fairly rapid healing pattern and I do believe that my joints were very flexible because those types of injuries seem to come around in time for me to get out there and compete. But, that was the one that I thought probably I wouldn't make it on, but by Friday I was running pretty good."

On his musical interest: "I think we all have to have avocations. It keeps life interesting. There's music in my family. My dad was a drummer. My brother is a professional musician. My aunt was a music teacher and a piano player so I got the short end of that stick, but I still love music and I still play the guitar. We cut a record there, Joe Schmidt, myself and Bruce Marr. They call it the Joe Schmidt trio and all the records that sold were our immediate and extended family. It made all the local DJs, they played it for about a week or two. It's kind of fun really."

On whether they called him Rick at the time for Rick Johnson: "Oh yeah, yeah they called me Rick. If I talk to my teammates now they'll call me Rick."

On being described as a coach who doesn't stop playing and his coaching style: "I don't really have a coaching style. I try to look at the people we're playing, try to get our guys ready to play against them. I set a high standard for our players and I just try to work for that. They all know what I expect from them and they're the ones that have to go out there and do it. They've done a good job of doing that but my coaching style is just try to help them as best I can."

On his interceptions against Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas: "I used to kid both of them and say that most of my interceptions came against those two and they would always counter with 'Well that's probably true but how many touchdowns would we get on you?' We played them twice a year, but you do, you get some familiarity with offense and with individual quarterbacks. I felt like I knew those two guys pretty well and I'm sure they felt like they knew me, but we did have some really good defenses and some defensive lines that could really put some pressure on the quarterback. It set us up in the secondary for some good opportunities to intercept. I was always pretty proud of that too because those two guys are both Hall of Famers too."

On whether it's still special playing against the Lions: "Well I'll always have a lot of Honolulu blue and silver in me. You don't play for somebody for 14 years and not have it continue to be a part of your life as long as you're on the planet and it's always a little surrealistic to be standing on one sideline and see the blue and silver guys on the other side. It was more so for sure shortly after I retired but it's still there a little bit, yeah I'll admit that."

On whether he considered playing golf after playing at OSU with Jack Nicholas and Tom Weiskopf: "Well I did until I played with (Tom) Weiskopf and (Jack) Nicklaus. I saw how far they hit it and it was further than I hit it, but what I didn't realize at the time was they hit it that much further than everybody in the world anyhow. But I wasn't privy to that knowledge until I started going around to some professional tournaments but after playing with Jack and Tom I decided I better really, really concentrate on football."

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