TDBH: Founding Father of Blitzburgh LeBeau leaves Steelers to return to Bengals

Posted Jan 16, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - January 17, 1997

The news that has been percolating for the two weeks since the Patriots beat Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional playoffs becomes fact today when Bengals head coach Bruce Coslter engineers a quick raid on one of the jewels of the AFC Central and absconds with the zone blitz and creator Dick LeBeau one day after he leaves the Steelers as defensive coordinator. LeBeau returns to the same town where he gave birth to the zone blitz during the previous decade and Coslet gives him the same job here, the same one he had for eight seasons in Cincy in a reunion of the Bengals’ 1988 Super Bowl coordinators. The laconic, cerebral LeBeau, 59, an Ohio State icon who played 14 years on the NFL corner so well he’ll one day be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is a London, Ohio native and a Buckeye through-and-through who dines out on the story that Paul Brown cut him as a rookie in Cleveland’s 1957 camp before beginning his career with the Lions. “Professionally, I felt like there wasn’t that much to do in Pittsburgh,” LeBeau says. “This is a dream come true.”

After leaving under fire three years following the Super Bowl, LeBeau returns with a rehabbed rep featuring his last two seasons in Pittsburgh where the defense has built such a reputation for getting to the quarteteback while rolling to division titles that they call them “Blitzburgh.” Coslet doesn’t blink an eye in ditching the Bengals’ 4-3 defense of Larry Peccatiello for his friend’s vaunted 3-4. “He’s basically going to be the head coach of the defense,” Coslet says of his new assistant head coach. That confidence headlines a giddy introductory news conference today at Spinney Field where no introductions are necessary. It’s believed LeBeau plans to appoint two of his former players from the Super Bowl team to his staff with old nose tackle Tim Krumrie staying on to coach the defensive line and ex-cornerback Ray Horton moving from the Washington staff to coach the secondary.  He also teams the wave of nostalgia with a fresh breeze of optimism from down river with the belief his Steeler success can help a defense that in the last two seasons finishes 30th and 25th in the NFL while his “Blitzburgh,” unit finishes third and second.


Another one of his former players who is current starting outside linebacker James Francis is described as “ecstatic.” Francis has 11 sacks in his first two seasons under LeBeau and 18.5 in the five seasons since he went to Pittsburgh. “We always dictated to the offense; we were aggressive, not the other way around. He gets the most out of his players and knows how to use them,” Francis says. Even though the Bengals are ripping up their 4-3, they believe they’ve got enough players to smooth the transition to the 3-4. Coslet says he’s moving tackle Dan Wilkinson to end after becoming one of the top interior pass rushers in the league over the last two seasons with 14.5 sacks. “I think that will really let Danny flower,” Coslet says. “It’s easier to find good linebackers than good defensive linemen.” Francis says the Bengals have the right personnel for a 3-4 with better players on the line in top five picks Wilkinson and John Copeland and free-agent corners Ashley Ambrose and Jimmy Spencer.  But LeBeau knows it won’t be easy and in the end it sounds like he won’t be surprised when he switches to a 4-3 in the middle of the ’99 season. “It’s a complex design,” LeBeau says today. It’ll take some time. How far and how fast we will go will pretty much be determined by the players and how they assimilate the ideas. It’s not something we can go out and play tomorrow.” Tomorrow is foreshadowed by Coslet giving LeBeau the title of assistant head coach. When Coslet resigns three games into a 2000 season they’ve scored just one touchdown, LeBeau becomes the oldest rookie head coach in NFL history at age 63 and earns two more seasons for how he gets a shaken team back on the rails.

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