LeBeau recalls OSU days

The connection to Ohio roots doesn't stop with the coaches of the Buckeyes as there is a pro head coach of an Ohio team that is a pure Ohioan through and through. Dave Biddle recently had a chance to talk with Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Dick LeBeau about his thoughts on OSU and his playing days there.

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau is entering his 44th year in professional football. Counting his days as a high school and college player, LeBeau has been in the game for an amazing 52 years. Needless to say, he's seen just about everything football has to offer. 

But if you ask LeBeau what his fondest gridiron experience has been, he'll tell you it was playing for Ohio State.

"I grew up kind of in the shadow of Ohio State," LeBeau told Bucknuts.com. "I remember my dad and my uncle and people like that taking me to Ohio State football games and how awe-inspiring it was to go in that big stadium and see all the people and watch the games. There was something very special about it and there was no question in my mind that if I ever had the opportunity, I would play at Ohio State." 

LeBeau grew up in London, about 25 minutes from Columbus. He played quarterback and linebacker in high school and loves to tell about the day a man named Woody Hayes came to speak with him.

"We were fortunate enough to have a lot of success my senior year in high school (1954-55) and there were a lot of colleges sending letters. I remember Woody came to a track meet one time that I was running in, and then another time he invited my dad and I over to Ohio State to meet with him. He said he wanted me to come and play for the Buckeyes and we decided that's what I was going to do. That was... (pause)... quite a thrill for me. Even sitting here talking to you... you know... it was just a tremendous thrill to know I was going to be a Buckeye."

But LeBeau would have to wait a year to play in a real game at OSU. Back then, freshmen were only allowed to practice.

"The freshman year was a tough year. You basically scrimmaged everyday against the varsity. If we were playing Wisconsin that week, you were the Wisconsin defense. Or when the varsity was working on defense, you were the Wisconsin offense... I looked at it as an opportunity to perform daily in front of the varsity coaches. So from that standpoint, it was a good thing. Because if you made some good plays, Woody and his staff noticed you. But there were some really long afternoons - I don't remember the freshman team beating the Ohio State varsity too often. But we gave them a hard time sometimes."

The Buckeyes went 7-2 that year (1955) and were Big Ten champions.

The following year, LeBeau picked up his first varsity letter as a halfback/cornerback for the 6-3 Buckeyes. He talked about the "iron man" mentality of players from that era. 

"There were single-platoon rules when I played - they called it limited substitution. I averaged over 57 minutes a game one year. Our linemen only weighed around 225 because they had to stay out in the heat and never could come out of the game essentially. I'm not sure how long the college rules were like that, maybe four more years, but eventually they went to multiple substitutions like you see today."

In 1957, LeBeau was a two-way starter as Ohio State went 9-1 and won the national championship - the school's second national title under Hayes.

"That was a great year. We actually lost the opener (18-14 to TCU) and then won the rest of our games. We beat Michigan pretty good (31-14) and beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl (10-7)."

As a senior in 1958, LeBeau and the Buckeyes went 6-1-2.

Is winning the national title his favorite OSU memory? 

"Well, I think just playing and being a starter is my highlight. To come from a small town and play at a place like Ohio State, it's something I'm very proud of."

LeBeau did his best to describe the legendary Hayes.

"Woody was the type of person who would have been a success regardless of what line of business he would have pursued... I've been blessed; I've been coached by Woody Hayes, Don Shula, Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry. I've gotten to see these people in day-to-day working situations. All of them were very special men and would have been very successful in any walk of life. Woody Hayes went into the Navy as an enlisted man and rose to the rank of Captain in World War II. He was just a leader of men, that's what he was. Woody was very dedicated and hard-working. The books are filled with his shenanigans and antics, but underneath all of those things was a completely dedicated man who was truly one of the fine Americans of all time."

LeBeau has been "kind of" busy with football since his OSU playing days ended, but does he still closely follow the Buckeyes?

"Oh, I follow them very closely every year - I have scarlet and gray blood. I've only gotten to go to a few games since I finished playing there. One year when I was playing (for the Lions) we had a bye week for some reason. I got to go to Ohio Stadium that week and that's the only time I've been in Ohio Stadium since I played. But during the 14 years I played in Detroit, I saw them play Michigan in Ann Arbor three or four times... I would like to see them more often in person, but I'm always working. I just don't have the chance."

What about this year at Paul Brown Stadium against UC?

"It's going to be very difficult with us having a (road) game the next day, but I would love to see it... I also really enjoy the Ohio State marching band. We try to have them come down and play at one Bengals game per year, but I never get to hear them because I'm always in the locker room at halftime."

LeBeau recently hosted OSU head coach Jim Tressel and his staff during a practice at Bengals mini-camp. LeBeau spoke of his developing relationship with Tressel.

"We were honored that Jim and his staff would come down and take some time out of their busy schedules and share some football insight with us. I met Jim last year when he down in the Cincinnati area for an alumni function. I always knew Jim and followed his career, but never had the privilege of meeting him. But once I did, I recognized he was a fine young man and an outstanding coaching talent and I think he's going to do really, really well at Ohio State."

LeBeau on ex-Ohio State coach John Cooper who is working for the Bengals as a special consultant:

"I like John a lot. I think it was a win-win situation for our franchise and for coach Cooper. I think John missed it. I won't put words in his mouth, but you can't do something as long as he did it and not miss it a little bit. At the same time, I think that he's very family-oriented now and a coach's day is very structured and you don't have a lot of free time. John had some time to be with his family and I think he liked that, but he also wanted to do something football-related and this gave him the opportunity to do both."

LeBeau feels fortunate that he has been able to stay in Ohio all these years. He lived out a dream by playing for the Buckeyes and after his playing days ended, he has been able to work in Cincinnati for the majority of his coaching career. But he does have one regret - he wishes that he could have played professionally in Ohio as well.

"I was always very proud to be an Ohio man. I'm proud to have gone to Ohio State University and I'm lucky that I've spent the majority of my coaching career in Cincinnati. Had it worked out that I would have played for the Cleveland Browns - because there wasn't any Cincinnati Bengals back then - well, that would've been even better."

LeBeau was actually drafted by the Browns in 1959, but was cut in training camp. He was signed by the Lions that same year. LeBeau was voted to three Pro Bowls during his career and still holds the NFL record for most consecutive games played by a cornerback with 171. He is also tied for sixth all-time in the NFL with 62 career interceptions. 

LeBeau has coached in three Super Bowls, two with the Bengals ('81, '88) and one with the Pittsburgh Steelers ('95).

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