NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Dick LeBeau is a man of few words, many guitars and a love of history that takes him to preserved battlefields across the United States.
When his day job allows.
The Hall of Fame cornerback is about to start his 57th season in the NFL coaching with his sixth different team. LeBeau, who turns 78 in the season’s opening month, joined the Tennessee Titans in February after leaving Pittsburgh, and he has been too busy to return to the Hermitage or visit Civil War battlefields a short drive away.
“First year’s always kind of busy,” LeBeau told The Associated Press. “I hope to be able to spend some time there and revisit those sites.”
And no, LeBeau says he never thought of retirement after leaving Pittsburgh. Not yet.
“Fortunately, I had some opportunities, and I didn’t have to think about it,” LeBeau said. “Eventually, I’ll have to think about it. It crosses your mind. Nobody goes forever.”
Considered the architect of the zone blitz, LeBeau is enough of a renaissance man to keep himself busy when he goes into retirement.
He’s loved reading about history from textbooks his older brother brought home, and also from his college coach, Woody Hayes at Ohio State. During the offseason, LeBeau has visited battlefields Chickamauga in Georgia, and Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He’s also heard plenty about the Battle of Franklin.
“There’s a lot of people that gave an awful lot for us to have that,” LeBeau said. “I think it’s good for all of us to see that and reflect on that a little bit, and I think our country, our government, has done a great job of keeping those places very available and a pleasant viewing experience. History can be either wow or a little dull. They make it wow.”
LeBeau also taught himself how to play guitar — or what he calls the easiest way to hear a song on demand because he can play it himself. He has a guitar in every room at home, and LeBeau brought two with him to Nashville. In a town where every guitar has a label and a history, LeBeau prefers Taylor guitars because a friend who needed a business sold that brand.
The defensive coach can pick up a tune by listening as easily as he can figure out a new way to blitz a quarterback. Every now and then a song can stump him, such as Bob Dylan’s “Watchtower,” which prompted a call to a Duquesne University music professor for help.
“I knew there were only three chords,” LeBeau said. “I couldn’t get it. Finally, I said ‘Bill, I give up. What are the three chords to ‘Watchtower?’ And of course he gave them to me right away. But there’s a minor in there.”
LeBeau has only visited Nashville’s downtown music scene of honky tonks once since being hired. Mix in football with music, LeBeau expects to be busy handling tickets from friends wanting to visit.
For now, LeBeau has reunited with Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, defensive coordinator Ray Horton and a handful of former Pittsburgh coaches now on staff here. LeBeau officially is assistant head coach in charge of the defense, a hire Horton needed only seconds to endorse.
“We’re in the talent business and acquiring talent that not only means players, it means coaches, scouts. It means everybody,” Horton said. “The more good people you can have around, the better you will be.”
LeBeau’s resume was enough to convince the Titans to listen closely.
A man of few words, LeBeau has told a few stories from his career, and he has even caught the players off-guard by jogging alongside them.
“We were like, ‘Hey you know Coach, you ain’t supposed to be running,’” safety Michael Griffin said. “He’s like, ‘Oh, I still got it.’ It’s kind of funny. He’s always laughing, always smiling, always telling jokes, so he’s in great spirits. With that, you can see why he’s been around so long and makes it look so easy.”
But football is LeBeau’s first love, so much so he’ll watch college games and even the occasional high school game. When it comes to scheming against offenses, LeBeau looks only at the NFL.
“If your tenets are sound, I think it will withstand the evolution of time and the ramifications of guys messing around on the offense like they do,” LeBeau said.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducts its latest class Saturday, and some day LeBeau could be the first inducted as both player and coach. Such talk is humbling, but LeBeau insists he doesn’t think of that possibility.
“I feel totally blessed to be in there,” LeBeau said. “They’ve done enough for me. They don’t have to put me in any other way.”