1-1-03, 11:40 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
It's a new year for Dick LeBeau and apparently a new job in the NFL.
LeBeau ended his run as Bengals head coach in Buffalo this past Sunday, but the Bills are interested in extending his career in the NFL to a 45th season.
Bills president Tom Donahoe said Wednesday morning that he wants to explore adding LeBeau to his staff in some form even though he doesn't anticipate major changes on Buffalo's defensive side of the ball.
"Anytime you can get a coach like Dick LeBeau, you try to fit him in anywhere you can," Donahoe said. "I would obviously be interested in something like that because of what I think of him."
Donahoe has had high regard of LeBeau ever since they were together in Pittsburgh from 1992-96, when Donahoe was the Steelers director football operations and LeBeau was the secondary coach and later defensive coordinator during a stretch the club went to three AFC championship games.
In typical understated fashion, LeBeau quietly cleaned out his Paul Brown Stadium office while watching Monday Night Football about 12 hours after Bengals President Mike Brown informed him he wouldn't pick up the option year of his contract. He indicated he has nothing to say about his 12-33 tenure beyond his press release paragraph of "I got the job, I kept it for three years, and lost the job. In between, I worked as hard as I could. End of statement. End of story."
But Donahoe has plenty to say to him and the two have already traded
phone messages. Even though LeBeau is 65, Donahoe has no doubts what he can bring to a Buffalo defense rebuilding under defensive head coach Gregg Williams. Not to mention potential free-agent Takeo Spikes, the linebacker LeBeau drafted in the first round for the Bengals in 1998.
"There is nobody who can sit down and X and O on defense like Dick," Donahoe said. "And he's always had tremendous rapport with players. He's an energetic guy who gives it to you straight. And he's the kind of guy I believe would want to stay in coaching."
After talking with LeBeau Monday morning, Brown got the impression he wanted to stay in coaching. Except for that five-year stint in Pittsburgh, LeBeau spent 18 seasons with the Bengals as secondary coach and then defensive coordinator. But he spent his first seven seasons in the NFL in Philadelphia and Green Bay after playing 14 seasons with the Lions.
After LeBeau got released from Sam Wyche's staff following the 1991 season, Brown wanted to keep him on new coach Dave Shula's staff, but Shula wanted a clean slate on defense.
Donahoe says LeBeau's lack of success in Cincinnati won't have a bearing on his reputation league-wide.
"The deck was stacked against him," Donahoe said. "People know what kind of coach he is. That isn't going to matter at all. If he wants to coach again, he'll coach again."