Dick LeBeau vs. Bill Belichick meet in rare playoff battle
Dick LeBeau vs. Bill Belichick.
Doesn't get much better than that for NFL fans. Tennessee linebacker Wesley Woodyard believes the rare matchup is a showdown for the ages.
"Oh man, it's going to be a battle of the masterminds," Woodyard said when the Titans defensive coordinator tries to outwit Belichick and his New England Patriots.
"Two Hall of Fame coaches, I'm sure Belichick will be there hands down. Coach LeBeau's seen a lot, coached a lot of playoff games, so we're relying heavily on his experience and to go out there and play hard man. That's all we can do for our coach."
Well, LeBeau is only in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his 14-season career as a cornerback, though he certainly qualifies for consideration for designing the zone blitz on defense. LeBeau also has an NFL-record 45 consecutive seasons as a coach, putting ahead of only one man — Belichick with 43 — in that category.
The two will be very instrumental in determining the outcome on Saturday night when the upstart Titans (10-7) visit Belichick and his defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (13-3) for a spot in the AFC championship game.
And Belichick made it very clear that coaching against LeBeau is not something he enjoys.
"I wouldn't use that word, no," Belichick said. "It's very challenging. Coach LeBeau is a great coach, he does a tremendous job, (he) has for his entire illustrious career as a player and as a coach. Really revolutionized the game, and his system has certainly withstood the test of time."
Belichick ticked off how LeBeau's Titans have led the NFL in rushing defense over the past two seasons and led the league this season for the fewest big plays allowed of 20 yards or longer. Belichick says the foundation of LeBeau's defense remains the same over the years, modified for the players he has and the teams he's facing.
The man with five Super Bowl titles as head coach in New England made clear he has great respect for LeBeau, whom he considers a good friend.
"He's such a great person, very humble guy that accomplished so much but he's very modest about it," Belichick said. "I learn an awful lot from watching him, watching his defenses and watching the way that he does things. Techniques and adjustments and schematics and so forth. He's one of the great coaches to ever walk the sidelines in this league."
Told that Belichick said he learned a lot from him, LeBeau said he was humbled.
"Not very many coaches have the record Coach Belichick's gotten, in fact he's probably closing in on the best ever," LeBeau said Wednesday. "That's quite a compliment."
The two haven't coached against each other in the playoffs but once before with Belichick overseeing the Patriots. LeBeau and the Pittsburgh Steelers won home-field advantage in 2004 by beating the Patriots 34-20 on Oct. 31, then Belichick and New England won the AFC conference championship Jan. 23, 2005, beating the Steelers 41-27.
"It'll be interesting to see how it comes out," LeBeau said.
LeBeau said preparing for a Belichick-coached team means understanding the players won't beat themselves. Add in Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game makes the Patriots always a formidable opponent, according to LeBeau.
The Titans trust that LeBeau, who turned 80 the day before this season opened in September, will put them where they need to be. Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan said that's what LeBeau did in the second half of the Titans' upset of Kansas City 22-21 in the wild-card game. The Titans allowed only 61 yards total offense and no points in the final 30 minutes.
"He has all the experience in the world, probably been to 50 playoff games give or take," Morgan said. "We have a lot of confidence in him that he's going to put us in the right positions."
After kickoff, LeBeau said both coaches will be focused only on what's happening on the field.
"Once we walk on that field," LeBeau said, "we won't know who the hell's on the other side of the field to be honest with you."
Everyone else will know.