Why Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh Steelers Had to Part Ways
While Dick LeBeau's resignation as the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator felt eerily familiar to the "retirement" of former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians after the 2011 season, it was long overdue. Unfortunately, head coach Mike Tomlin probably hesitated passing the reins to Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler out of respect for LeBeau.
In short, LeBeau forced Tomlin's hand. But the hand was easier to play due to the poor play of the defense.
Indeed, LeBeau's defenses have been trending downward for several years. In 2014, the team finished No. 18 in total defense.
But that ranking is only part of a rotting whole. Like a statistical onion, once the layers are peeled away, the inner numbers make you want to cry.
Below are the data from several key statistical categories starting in 2011:
Opponent’s Time of Possession/Game
Plays from Scrimmage
Data courtesy NFL.com
The most glaring data comparison from the above table is that despite being on the field for nine seconds longer and facing 20 fewer plays than in 2011, the 2014 defense gave up 81.6 yards and 8.8 points more per game. Furthermore, the 6.0 yards per play was tied for second worst in the NFL in 2014.
Now, to be fair, the list of veteran players who have departed is extensive. Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and James Farrior retired. Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Clark are playing in other cities. Others like Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and James Harrison have grown old in the Steelers uniform.
But that's exactly the point. The Steelers defense is in the process of a lot of turnover, meaning younger players are moving in. Because of that inexperience and the complexity of LeBeau's system, there are more opportunities for schematic breakdowns and lapses in discipline.
How long would it have taken for the newer crop of players to fully assimilate into LeBeau's system? It could have taken several years. Meanwhile, Butler's contract expired at the end of this year, meaning he was likely to move on if LeBeau stayed.
Although LeBeau may seem like Methuselah, he is not. There came a point when he needed to step aside and make room for Butler.
Granted, Butler's success is not guaranteed. However, he does bring a fresh perspective into the mix. And a fresher look is oftentimes needed with a new generation of players. Furthermore, he has earned that right after turning down opportunities and being denied others.
As the saying goes, there is a time for everything under the sun. And last Saturday was the time for Dick LeBeau to depart into that setting sun.