Quote of the Week I
"I love coach Gruden. He's one of my best friends. I felt he probably should have been released a little earlier, so maybe he would have had a chance at the Broncos, the Browns, or the Jets job. I did not like that at all.''
--Golfer John Daly, on WTSP-TV in Tampa-St. Petersburg, on the Bucs' decision to fire Jon Gruden three weeks after the season. Gruden caddied for Daly once last season.
Quote of the Week II
"Don't screw it up. That's my team.''
-- Former Jets assistant coach Buddy Ryan to his son, Rex, who was named the coach of the Jets last week.
Quote of the Week III
"The best way I can describe Gunther Cunningham, and what I tell people who don't know him, is that every minute of every day, it's fourth-and-one, and that's the way he approaches football and life. That's what we need in Detroit.''
-- Detroit coach Jim Schwartz on his new defensive coordinator, Cunningham, on our Sirius NFL Radio show, The Opening Drive, last week.
Stat of the Week
If you notice some of the Steelers veterans -- James Farrior, certainly, and probably Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and others -- politicking for Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame during Super Bowl XLIII meetings with the media, don't be surprised. Farrior told me the other day he plans to bring it up in the four or five times when he meets the press this week.
It's an interesting case. LeBeau has never made it because, theoretically, he was never so outstanding at any one thing that he became a solid candidate for Canton ... and also because he had a lousy record (12-33) as a NFL head coach, with Cincinnati from 2000 to '02. I've had a long history with the Bengals, and I can tell you Vince Lombardi, with Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells as his coordinators, wouldn't have built a great team there.
Let's examine what LeBeau has done in his 50 years in the NFL and see whether that might merit serious consideration for the Hall of Fame's class of 2010.
Playing career (Detroit, 1959-72)
LeBeau set an NFL record that still stands by playing in more consecutive games -- 171 -- than any other cornerback in NFL history. "Sometimes when I talk about playing back in ancient times,'' LeBeau said last week with a smile, "I might tell them about that, because that's the really important thing -- that you're there for your team every week.'' What he did in those starts has stood the test of time. Here are the top 10 interceptors of all time, with an asterisk noting those in the Hall of Fame:
Assuming Woodson gets in Saturday in his first year of eligibility, five of the six men in history with more interceptions than LeBeau (all but Ken Riley) will be bronzed in Canton.
Coaching career (Philadelphia, 1973-75; Green Bay, 1976-79; Cincinnati, 1980-91; Pittsburgh, 1992-96; Cincinnati, 1997-2000, head coach 2000-02; Buffalo, 2003; Pittsburgh, 2004-08.)
While on a scouting trip for the Bengals to LSU in the early '80s, he met with then-Tiger coach Bill Arnsparger and told him he admired how his defenses could get so much pressure without sending extra pass-rushers. They exchanged some ideas. LeBeau, on his way home from the scouting trip, began doodling out schemes. What if, he thought, we still sent four pass-rushers, only they all weren't defensive linemen? What if we sent a linebacker and a cornerback on one play, and kept a defensive end and defensive tackle back to cover receivers on shallow routes?
LeBeau made 225-pound Cincinnati safety David Fulcher into a half-rush, half-cover weapon, the likes of which the league had never seen. He did it in other places, too. In his first game as Bills defensive coordinator in 2003, he dropped 335-pound defensive tackle Sam Adams into coverage, and Adams picked off a Tom Brady pass and ran it back for a touchdown. He called it the zone blitz, or the fire zone, and soon, every team in the NFL began doing some of it. The advantage was that if two offensive linemen were left on the line with no one to block, and one lineman had two guys to block, it was likely the defense would have one rusher come free that the offense couldn't account for. That element of surprise has been copied by teams everywhere.
In Pittsburgh, he has found the perfect front-seven mix, with strong defensive linemen, nimble ends and versatile linebackers. LeBeau looked for big outside linebackers who could drop into coverage and rush the passer with equal skill -- and could stop the run -- and has found perfect ones in 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and second-year man LaMarr Woodley.
How the Steelers have ranked in NFL categories since LeBeau took over in 2004:
So LeBeau, in 50 consecutive years in pro football as a player, head coach, assistant coach and coordinator, is the most durable cornerback of all-time, has more interceptions than all but six men in the 89-year history of pro football, invented a defensive scheme that coaches all over America have copied, and has coached the best defense in football in three of the past five years.
He's got my vote for Canton.