National Basketball Association Hall of Famer Larry Bird once said, “I believe coaches need to move every three years if they are going to be effective. Athletes get tired of listening to the same voice.”
It isn’t that surprising to know that Bird played for four different coaches over his 14-year NBA career in Boston. That averages out to about three and half years per coach.
I know there are football coaches who have said the same thing over time and now I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t happening with Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau. This is LeBeau’s 11th straight year as the leader of the defense in Pittsburgh and despite lofty rankings two years ago, the defense just hasn’t been the same recently.
Solid veteran players have moved on and due to poor drafts the depth has not been refilled. LeBeau hasn’t forgotten how to coach, but has he changed anything about the way he does it?
LeBeau is loved by his players and former players and he is respected by football people across the country. While that is great and all, the results have not always matched the admiration. I take no joy in saying that his time has come and gone because I like stability as much as the next guy and LeBeau has been part of that.
The Steelers cannot be afraid of change however. If they could change their offensive coordinator what’s stopping them from changing their defensive one? Rhetorical question so I’ll move on…
As much as I wonder if his message has run dry, I also wonder if his system has done the same. His basic principles really haven’t changed; stop the run, pressure the QB and tackle the catch. Good offensive coordinators have figured this out and it’s starting to show more and more. Limited skill at key positions will make things even more vanilla.
High school and college football coaches can last forever because players come and go every 2-3 years so the message stays fresh. Professional coaches, despite free agency, will often coach players for five years or more and that same message over and over can begin to fall on deaf ears.
Maybe 11 straight years of Dick LeBeau’s coaching is falling on deaf ears now too. Bill Cowher admitted when he left that maybe he had over-stayed his welcome because the message just didn’t change.
The same can be said for Mike Tomlin too. Now in his eighth year, maybe his message has gone unheard as well in recent years. If the way he talks to his team is anything like his press conferences I can understand why.
If it sounds like I’m bashing both men, that isn’t my intention. I’m posing a question that I think has merit and I think it’s a question Art Rooney II and company need to strongly consider.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteelDad and the website @SCBlitz. Check us out on Facebook at facebook.com/steelcityblitz and on Fancred.com. You can hear him weekly during the season on Trib-Live Radio
photo courtesy pittsburghsportsreport.com