|Dick LeBeau used his knowledge and skill set to come up with 62 interceptions in his Hall of Fame career.|
I never got to see Dick LeBeau play in college, so most of my knowledge about him at Ohio State comes from legendary college basketball coach Bob Knight.
LeBeau and Knight attended Ohio State together, and Knight has always talked glowingly about him in three areas:
1. He was a great athlete (They used to play basketball on Saturdays, and LeBeau was good enough to play hoops in the Big Ten).
2. He's such a smart guy.
3. He's really one of those people everybody likes.
After his final game with the Buckeyes in 1958, LeBeau played in the Blue-Gray Football Classic (an all-star game) in Montgomery, Ala. Apparently while he was at this game, the Cleveland Browns -- one of the few teams that scouted players back then -- decided they wanted to pick him up.
LeBeau didn't initially start for the Lions as a rookie, but got the nod in the final six contests (only a 12-game season).
When I worked for the Dallas Cowboys we faced LeBeau five times. In four of the five meetings, he played right corner. The last time we played against him -- which was in his 14th and final season -- he was at safety.
LeBeau had 171 consecutive starts at cornerback, a record at that position. The streak ended when he missed the last game of the 1971 season. In his final year (1972), he started all 14 games. That would make 185 starts as a defensive back, missing just one start after winning a job six games into his rookie season -- quite impressive.
LeBeau had 62 career interceptions (seventh most all-time) and was selected to play in three Pro Bowls (1964-66).
Once, when I was having a conversation with coach Tom Landry, he said "LeBeau reminds me a lot of myself." They were similar from the standpoint of height and lack of elite speed, and also having the uncanny ability of knowing how to play pass defense.
In those days we didn't time people in the 40-yard dash, and LeBeau didn't look to be a speedster, although he had great athletic ability (Knight was right). He had to excel by using proper technique. While he studied the game, he had this ability to break on the ball, and when you have as many interceptions as he had, you have to be smart and have good hands. LeBeau accomplished what he did with skill, smarts and technique, rather than flat-out speed.
Since retiring as a player, LeBeau has coached an amazing 37 consecutive years. And what he's done is make the "zone blitz" famous. Some people had tried it before, but he's the one who made the zone blitz a staple by changing it from using man coverage when you rushed six players to how we know it today: dropping out a defensive lineman into space. They then don't have to play man coverage and could play zone coverage. That's how it got the name.
Teams hate to play against teams LeBeau coaches. One reason for that is his unpredictability -- you might play a LeBeau-coached team one week, and the next week everything they do is totally different. What it forces opposing coaches to do is make really quick decisions. It also means a lot of time has to be spent getting ready for the style of play. You only have so much practice time and instead of using it on other parts of the offense, you're spending three-quarters of your time getting ready for the zone blitz. That's the challenge of facing LeBeau's defense.
Anybody you talk to says the guy does everything right. He's not afraid to try new things, and usually the things he tries are pretty sound. He loves golf, and is a scratch player. I see him from time to time at different golf tournaments, and he usually walks away with some kind of honors.
This is a person that richly deserved going into the Hall of Fame for all that he has done.