Consistent, athletic, and Innovative. These are just a few words that describe newly elected Hall of Fame player and coach Dick LeBeau. LeBeau making it to the Hall of Fame finally after years of being mentioned in passing on the voters ballots is personal for me in a sense. I have always admired him as a player and as a coach. Being credited with inventing the Zone Blitz scheme, he helped transcend the game of football to what it is today. Just look around the NFL, colleges, even high schools. The Zone Blitz out of the 3-4 set is being run at all levels. It has allowed coaches to become creative and even put their own spin on the defense itself. Although it requires a certain kind of athlete for it to be effective, it is extremely flexible. So why did it take so long for LeBeau to be elected ? Why is one of the greatest players and coaches to be involved in the game sitting on the sideline watching everyone pass him up ? Well, you would have to ask the “media” voters that question because it’s ridiculous.
Although I have joined the ranks of the media, it still shows how suggestive voting on these types of awards can be. Take the Pro Bowl for example. Now you can’t tell me all the guys that are voted in deserve to go. I won’t name anyone but let’s be serious here. Half of the guys go strictly off name, not to mention that most go the year after they were suppose to go. Can you say backwards ? I mean who are these guys anyway ? What credibility do they have ? Seems like none looking at how they vote. I mean Lynn Swann and Jack Youngblood just got elected in 2001. Word ? I’d like to know what the formula is that has continued to keep this process behind.
In 1959, Lebeau was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round. After being cut, he signed with the Detroit Lions and went on to play 14 years. He recorded 62 interceptions for 762 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also has 9 fumble recoveries for 53 yards and 1 touchdown. He holds the record of consecutive games by a cornerback with 171 games. He made the Pro Bowl in 1965 through 1967, and was voted second team All-Pro several times. He played along side Dick “Night Trane” Lane, Yale Lary and Lem Barney during his career. As a coach, he has contributed and been a key element into the improvments those teams made. In 1981 as coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, his defense didn’t allow more than 30 points during the regular season or in the playoffs. During that same year in the AFC Championship game hi defense held a prolific offense lead by Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow to only 7 points en route to Super Bowl XVI. In 1995 with a defense lead by Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, and Rod Woodson, his defense finished third in total yards allowed. During the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons, his defenses finished first, and fifth last year.
Inventing the “Zone Blitz” scheme for LeBeau was a process in the making. His thoughts were at the time, ” It was a thought process kind of born out of necessity. It was basically an out cropping of the run and shoot that was becoming pretty prevelant in the league back then. We were in the same division as Houston, and they were tremendous at it with Moon and Co. Then the West Coast offense was spreading throughout the league. Those were quick-rhythm, get the ball out of your hands and cut up the defense types of passing games. We were just looking for ways to get pressure without exposing our defensive backs to have to cover the whole field.” These theories and this idea still holds true today. Which shows how ahead of his time he was at coaching. Since the NFL game has become wide open, the flexibility of his defense has still managed to put out great defenses and great numbers year after year. Many of the 3-4 defenses that you see today either have derived from or uses some form of LeBeau’s 3-4 Zone Blitz scheme. A trendsetter, without question.
I’m happy for Coach LeBeau, he no longer sits and watches as others pass him by on the way to the hall. He is more than deserving of his election. He has done so much for the game, and has coached and touched the lives of players for years. The consistency of his play and his defenses throughout the years speak for itself. As the game has evolved so has he, if not staying ahead of the curve altogether. If you’re not willing to change and make your game more well-rounded, you will find yourself on the outside looking in. Clearly he is in, in the Hall of Fame.