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Steelers Fans Didn’t Hide Their Love for Dick LeBeau

There’s a place in New York City where dozens of people, men and women both, proclaim their love for Dick on Sunday afternoons in the fall.

The patrons at Hibernia, a Steelers bar in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan, shouted¬†“We love Dick! We love Dick! We love Dick!” in unison whenever Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau first appeared on the TV screen during Steelers games.

There has been no such affection for Todd Haley and, to my knowledge, no “Bruuuce!!!” love for Bruce Arians when he was offensive coordinator.

LeBeau has been the only Steelers assistant coach to get such rock-star treatment at Hibernia. The regulars at that bar, and Steelers fans everywhere, will miss LeBeau. The 77-year-old told the Urbana Daily Citizen Saturday that he is resigning.

He made it clear that he’s not retiring. The Steelers PR brass had their ducks in a row this time, learning their lesson from three years ago when the word was that Arians retired when in fact he just wasn’t being brought back. Arians landed in Indianapolis as Colts offensive coordinator days later, and he’s gone 21-11 in the last two seasons as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

This time, the coordinator departure is being branded as a “mutual parting.” So the Steelers won’t have egg on their face if LeBeau gets a DC job somewhere else.

When Arians was shown the door, the feeling was that the Steelers’ offense had become “stale.” They were 12-4 in 2011 and had just been eliminated by Tim Tebow and the Broncos in the wild-card round of the playoffs. In came Haley, and the Steelers offense went from 12th in the NFL in yardage to 21st in 2012 to 20th in 2013. The Steelers were 21st in points scored in Arians’ last season, then 22nd in 2012 and 16th in 2013.

The Steelers’ offense has finally hit its stride under Haley, ranking seventh in points and second in yards in 2014. But it took three years, and the offense still has to find a way to win a game without Le’Veon Bell if he’s sidelined again. The Steelers are 0-4 without Bell since he was drafted. He missed the first three games of 2013 and last weekend’s AFC wild-card game against the Ravens, which turned out to be LeBeau’s last game with the Steelers.

This ends LeBeau’s 11-year run as Steelers defensive coordinator. The Steelers have won two Super Bowls and one conference championship during that time. The defense was ranked No. 1 in points allowed four times and No. 1 in yards allowed five times.

LeBeau also was the Steelers’ defensive coordinator in 1995 and 1996. The Steelers made their first post-Steel Curtain Super Bowl appearance in 1995. The Steelers’ last four Super Bowl berths have come with LeBeau as defensive coordinator. Their four championships in the 1970s came under three different defensive coordinators.

After a 14-year, Hall-of-Fame playing career, LeBeau has coached in the NFL since 1973. When he announced Saturday that he’s stepping down, he implied that he’s not done coaching.

LeBeau deserved to finish his career in Pittsburgh. If Mike Tomlin or Art Rooney II in any way suggested to him that they felt it was time for a change, then they better know what they’re doing.

Yes, the Steelers defense has slipped in recent years. No matter the coordinator, the Steelers won’t have the kind of defense they had in the mid-to-late-2000s anytime soon. A Hall-of-Fame caliber Troy Polamalu in his prime. James Harrison when he was too mean to help up opponents like he does now. Tackling machine James Farrior. Five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton. Ike Taylor at his shutdown best. Unheralded run-stopper Aaron Smith.

LeBeau had a once-in-a-generation defense at his fingertips, but he deserves credit for the Steelers’ success in those days just like he deserves credit for the progress of today’s younger players such as Cameron Heyward, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Steve McLendon and Stephon Tuitt.

That’s not quite the brick wall of the past. It was the offense this season that drove the Steelers to their first playoff berth in three years. But the defense played its best ball in December. If that doesn’t carry over into next season and LeBeau is wearing headphones on a different sideline, the Steelers will regret their role in LeBeau’s exit.

Linebackers coach Keith Butler is LeBeau’s heir apparent. Perhaps that continuity will help a growing defense pick up where it left off.

Regardless of who succeeds LeBeau, the transition between coordinators needs to be smoother on defense than it was on offense.

Maybe there were some who felt that LeBeau’s time had passed. The Steelers defense has given up an awful lot of big plays over the past couple of years.

However, if the Steelers keep giving up 80-yard touchdowns next season, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear the Hibernia faithful once again break into a “We love Dick!” chorus.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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