Legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, 80, will not return to the Titans next season, a team source told The Tennessean, perhaps ending one of the most storied careers in NFL history.
A different source, with direct knowledge of LeBeau’s thinking, told The Tennessean last week that he’d likely “be comfortable retiring if it doesn’t work out in Tennessee.”
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The Hall of Fame former defensive back just completed his 59th consecutive season as a player or coach in the NFL, but he was informed at a meeting Monday morning that he would not be asked to join the staff of new head coach Mike Vrabel, who was introduced at a press conference Monday.
LeBeau, who joined the Titans’ staff under Whisenhunt in 2015, remained under contract through next season, as do all of Mularkey’s assistants.
The Titans’ defense ranked 13th in the NFL in yards allowed this season. They were fourth against the run, 25th against the pass and 17th in scoring defense, after surrendering an average of 22.2 points per game. They also recorded the fifth-most sacks (43) and allowed the fewest plays of 20 or more yards in the league.
LeBeau starred at halfback on offense and cornerback on defense for coach Woody Hayes at Ohio State, winning the 1957 national championship.
He was drafted by the Browns in the fifth round in 1959 – with the 58th overall pick, which would be a second-rounder today – but released during training camp and signed with the Lions.
LeBeau played 14 seasons in Detroit, from 1959-72, where he snared a franchise record 62 interceptions, which still rank 10th in NFL history.
During his time in Tennessee, LeBeau’s defense was at times a frustrating watch. Cornerbacks would constantly line up 10 yards off their receivers and allow easy completions. Pass rushers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan would get dropped into coverage to try to keep up with shifty running backs. Slow-footed linebacker Avery Williamson would be asked to cover tight ends and running backs, even though that wasn’t his forte. And Erik Walden would consistently be lined up as a stand-up nose tackle on passing downs.
Despite his faults, LeBeau was a fantastic halftime adjuster, most notably in the 2017 primetime wins against the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs.