NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** Just a few years ago, the Pittsburgh City Council presented Dick LeBeau with a key to the city.
On Thursday night, the highly successful defensive coordinator with the Steelers for so many seasons will return to town with the Tennessee Titans when the two teams square off at Heinz Field.
LeBeau, who joined the Titans in 2015, said he'll always have fond memories from his days with the Steelers. But his mission this week is to find a way to stop some familiar faces, in front of friends.
The Titans celebrate defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's 80th birthday before practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn)
"My time with the Steelers, what the organization did for my life, I had so many good things happen for me there. I'll always be grateful to Pittsburgh and the Rooney family," LeBeau said. "But we're in Nashville now.
"But Pittsburgh people, they were wonderful to me. They were absolutely wonderful to me."
LeBeau, 80, had a heck of a run in the "Steel City."
Overall, he spent 13 seasons (1995-96, 2004-14) as defensive coordinator for the Steelers, where he served as the architect of the Steelers famed "Zone Blitz," and the accomplishments during those 13 seasons are impressive: 10 top-five defensive rankings, five seasons as the league's number one defense (2004, 07, 08, 11, 12), four AFC Championships, two Super Bowl wins (XL & XLIII) and nine playoff appearances. LeBeau also spent three seasons as secondary coach with the Steelers.
LeBeau, who is scheduled to speak to reporters after practice today in Nashville, made his comments to Titans Online on Thursday, leading up to the team's game against the Bengals. At the time, LeBeau said his focus was on the Bengals, another place he coached many years, but he spoke about his days in Pittsburgh under the condition his comments wouldn't be used until Pittsburgh week.
It's now Steelers week.
"We'd have to sit down here forever, because we had so much success," LeBeau said when asked about his best memories. "We were a two-time Super Bowl champion, four times in the Super Bowl.
"I was fortunate to be able to coach so many great players. The (2008) defense, they set records that I don't know if there will ever be those numbers again," LeBeau continued, referring to a unit that allowed the fewest yards (237.2 per game) and points (13.9 per game) in the NFL. "The numbers they put up are actually equal to the numbers we put up when I played in the 1960s, and the game is so different now. So I'll always remember that bunch."
Back in 2015, when the Pittsburgh City Council presented LeBeau with a key to the city, the council also declared February 'Dick LeBeau Month' in honor of LeBeau. The legendary coach was popular with his players, and the team's fans, during his 16 seasons with the Steelers.
LeBeau got emotional when honored by the city, when he was surrounded by family, friends and some of his former pupils. At the time, LeBeau knew he wouldn't be returning to the Steelers the next season.
"A lot of times I just can't see the good part of goodbye, so I'm not going to say that," LeBeau said in a ceremony back in 2015. "I'm going to paraphrase the last line of a poem that I've come to be associated with a little bit around this city…: 'But I heard him, ere he drove out of sight, God bless you all people of Pittsburgh, and to all good night."
LeBeau, of course, is hoping Thursday night will be a good one for the Titans.
His defense will be faced with trying to slow down quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense. LeBeau, just like he is with the city of Pittsburgh, is familiar.
"I have a lot of respect for him," LeBeau said of Roethlisberger. "We went up against each other in practice every day until I left. So I have a lot of respect for him."
A look back at Dick LeBeau's first three years with the Titans. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)