Investigating The Other Soap Opera

We're always hearing about the relationship between Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley, but no one ever looks at the drama on the other side of the ball. Until Jim Wexell did.

LATROBE -- Do a Google search on these three words: Roethlisberger Haley relationship.

You now have 105,000 stories from which to choose.

The headlines in the first three ended with:

1. Takes Hold

2. Getting Better

3. Drinking Beers and Watching Shark Week

And the two individuals -- offensive signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley -- are only in the second year of their relationship.

Suffice to say the soap opera's been sufficiently investigated by some heavy hitters in the national media this past week.

"Yes," Roethlisberger said with a laugh. "It's not much different than it was last year, except the reports are a lot different."

Yes, they're positive this year. That means the investigation is on hold. And what an investigation it's been.

But it got me thinking about the other side of the ball, and the relationship nobody ever mentions, or, for that matter, investigates. So that became my task on Friday, my final day of camp. I started it out by Googling these three words: LeBeau Foote relationship.

And I had one story, just one, a piece out of South on Marshall McFadden. It didn't even mention anyone's relationship with Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and defensive signal-caller Larry Foote, let alone their relationship with each other.

So I set about to tear this unknown secret wide open.

At least Ben got a chuckle out of it.

"It's funny because I was talking to him about that the other day," Roethlisberger said of LeBeau. "I asked him how often he changes defenses and he said 'very rarely.' So that's a nice thing. I suite with (Brett) Keisel and I tell him it must be nice never having to learn anything new. He shakes his head and says 'yeah.' But it's well-documented about Todd and I. We have a great relationship and I think it will show this year."

But there's nothing documented about LeBeau and Foote, and I wondered if they really do get along. I mean, LeBeau's from Ohio State and Foote's from Michigan. And the Steelers once let Foote go to the Detroit Lions.

Is there any sin more unpardonable?

So I had to get to the bottom of it. Maybe the New York Times, or, would like some of this drama, too.

Larry, truthfully, how's your relationship with LeBeau?

"Dick LeBeau?!?" he asked with an incredulous look on his face.

No, his brother, Bob.

Of course Dick LeBeau. Do you really get along with him?

"Awwww," Foote said with a wary look. "OK, the guy comes in, a Hall of Famer, top five interceptor, invented the fire-zone defense, had so many No. 1 defenses in this league, been to so many Super Bowls, when you step in his presence you shut up and you let him get you paid."

But he's an Ohio State guy.

"Well, he's the only Buckeye I ever loved," Foote said. "I always say that if you can't get along with Dick, there's something wrong with you."

Of course Foote liked LeBeau right away, because when LeBeau re-joined the Steelers in 2004 he replaced Kendrell Bell with Foote, the third-year former mid-round draft pick whom we in the media had disregarded because of a lack of size and speed. Plus, we all loved the way Bell hit any and everything.

But I still remember LeBeau looking at me like I was crazy back in 2004, when LeBeau pierced through me with those hawk eyes of his and said, "Hey, Larry Foote can play this game."

Foote started 18 games that season as the Steelers went 15-1 and reached the AFC Championship Game.

"He just took to me," said Foote, who in turn took to LeBeau. "The way he calls games always helps everybody. He's always putting us in the right position. Everybody's game got better when he came. Not a shot at Tim Lewis, but when he came (James) Farrior was Defensive Player of the Year, I started coming into my own. We've been No. 1 so many years since he's been here. The last decade we've been the best defense in the league."

But those were Foote's salad days. Two Super Bowl rings later, the Steelers kicked him to the curb. They let him sign with the Lions and Foote endured a 2-14 season before coming back to Pittsburgh as a backup. He HAS to have some residual bitterness for his coordinator.

Talk, Larry, The Enquirer wants to know!

"Awww, no," Foote said. "And they didn't really throw me to the curb. A young stud, Lawrence Timmons, came around and started pressing my time. It's part of the game.

"And, really, I know Dick was upset. Not trying to brag or anything, but he was upset when I was gone. It's part of our relationship. He didn't want to see me leave. It had to be a collective agreement to bring me back, especially paying me what they were paying me to be a backup. No, we have a great relationship."

No squabbles over the playcalls?

"Nah. Nah. Nah. Not with Dick LeBeau," Foote said. "When you see his resume and his body of work, you shut up. He calls it, we haul it. We know the gift that he has at defense, so we've got total faith in what he calls. Whatever Dick calls is the best situation, and if something goes wrong he's the first one to take the blame. He's one of those coaches, who, when I do coach, is the guy whose style I want to have."

Obviously, this coordinator has this signal-caller brainwashed. So I took my investigation to the man himself. I caught him after lunch while he was eating an ice cream cone. But he almost dropped it when I asked if he could "give me some good juice on your problems with Larry Foote."

"No problem at all," LeBeau said after his belly-laugh had subsided. "In fact I told Larry he's the only guy from Michigan I ever loved."

LeBeau didn't seem to care that this story was going nowhere, and especially not to TMZ.

"Larry doesn't do anything for you to get upset about," LeBeau said. "He's a coach's dream. He's a coach on the field. He's always on time for everything. He never misses a formation. He misses very few practices. What's to get upset about?"

As mentioned earlier, LeBeau took a shine to Foote in 2004. LeBeau said it was due to Foote's "quickness and smarts" and how someone might fool Foote once, but not a second time.

"It's intuitive and he's got all that," LeBeau said. "I liked his quickness. He's very quick and he's done a great job of keeping himself in condition. I think he's probably in the best condition I've ever seen -- and he's never in bad condition. I think he's going to have a real good year, I really do."

Right. And that's why you kicked him to the curb in 2009? Huh? What about that?

"I was just very, very glad to have him back because of his knowledge of our defense," LeBeau said. "And he knows what everybody around him is supposed to be doing. I said earlier he's like having a coach out there on the field, and you can never have too many good football players. And Larry Foote's a good football player. I was so pleased to get him back. He's been a starter for us all along. He's just an excellent player."

OK, well maybe this one won't sell in the bottomless soap-opera section of the sports pages. But at least this investigation can be put to rest.

The other one -- the one on offense that the media just can't get enough of -- may never be able to say the same.

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