And not solely for his groundbreaking X's and O's.
"He's been a great mentor," Green Bay Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said last week of the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive coordinator. "A great mentor, teacher, he's influenced me so much in terms of (pause) what I am today."
Perry cuts himself off just before he starts to cry.
Perry was a standout safety for Pittsburgh from 1992 through 1998, when LeBeau was an assistant coach and defensive coordinator. When LeBeau was head coach at Cincinnati in 2002, he gave Perry his first job as a coach. They were reunited in Pittsburgh from 2004 through 2006.
"Darren was one of those players," LeBeau told Packer Report during Tuesday's Media Day, "that you knew would be an excellent coach because he was so smart and he could position all 11 players on the defense and everybody knew if there was any hesitation in assignment, they'd look at Darren and he could just relay it to them instantly. He was a coach on the field. Beyond that, we've become great friends. He was a great player. That's a great compliment to me that he would have some regard for me."
Sunday's Super Bowl will bring together more than just LeBeau, the 73-year-old coaching sage who coached defensive backs in Green Bay under "Hawg" Hanner in the late 1970s, and Perry, the 42-year-old up-and-comer whose name has been linked to at least three coordinator posts around the league. From 1992 through 1994, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers held that same title in Pittsburgh, with LeBeau coaching the secondary. Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene was a star linebacker for the Steelers from 1993 through 1995.
"I love Coach LeBeau," Greene said last week. "Very few men, I tell 'em I love 'em, outside of my dad. I tell Coach LeBeau when I do talk to him that I love him."
Looking back, the Steelers had one of the all-time great coaching staffs. The head coach was Bill Cowher. Capers ran the defense until being named head coach of expansion Carolina, at which point LeBeau was promoted. And the linebackers coach was Marvin Lewis.
Capers and LeBeau remain close friends, though LeBeau joked that their friendship has been put on hold this week.
"When we first went to Pittsburgh, we roomed together initially," Capers said. "We're both from the same part of the country, both small-town Ohio guys. I have a great amount of admiration for Dick. When you think about what he's done, I don't think anybody else has done it, in terms of being a player who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame and now a coach. This guy has done it for over 50 years, and he's done it on a high level, so there's nothing but respect from me for Dick."
That respect flows from all directions. Clay Matthews calls Capers the "MVP" of the NFL's second-ranked scoring defense. Matthews' counterpart on the Steelers, James Harrison, called LeBeau "the wizard" of the NFL's top-ranked scoring defense.
In a league in which trends come in and out of vogue, what Capers and LeBeau created during those late nights in the office has stood the test of time. The 3-4 has taken the league by storm, and Capers and LeBeau are the league's foremost authorities. They have consistently stayed one or two steps ahead of the offenses. Moreover, every team runs some version of their zone blitz.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," LeBeau said in echoing what Capers has said since he arrived in Green Bay in February 2009. "The run-and-shoot was very much in vogue – Houston had Warren Moon was practically unstoppable with the people that he had, throwing the ball all over the place. The West Coast offense was very similar to the run-and-shoot in terms of quick release of the ball, spread out the defense. The blitzes that were in place at that time, they had the answers to. We defenders had to come up with something a little bit different. This was the thought that I had. That was about 30-some years ago so I guess it's going to be around for awhile."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.