Even though there is one more game yet to be played before the 2012 NFL regular season is officially over, the fans and media have already begun to look forward into 2013, beginning with coordinators Todd Haley and Dick LeBeau.
Most of the speculation surrounding LeBeau revolves around his age. At 73 years old, LeBeau served as defensive coordinator for the eighth season of his second tour of duty in Pittsburgh. He originally came to the Steelers as a secondary coach under Bill Cowher, but was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1995. In 1997, he joined the Cincinnati Bengals as an assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, later promoted to head coach 3 games into the 2000 season, a position he held for the next two seasons. LeBeau then spent the 2003 season with the Buffalo Bills, before returning to Pittsburgh prior to the 2004 season. He has been the Steelers defensive coordinator ever since.
LeBeau is deemed the mastermind behind the "zone-blitz" scheme, one that has allowed the Steelers to record the most sacks since 2004 (309). Since 1994, the Steelers have led the AFC in sacks six times, and the entire NFL three. LeBeau has consistently led defenses ranked among the best in the league, year after year. 2012 was no different. While his defense suffered through untimely injuries, the Steelers still managed to lead the league most of the season in pass defense.
However, despite his documented successes, the Steelers failure to convert stops on third downs and goal line situations had led many to feel that the game had passed LeBeau by. As the LeBeau gave his last interview of the season, he was asked about his future with the team, specifically the 2013 season. His answer was as wise and simplistic as would be expected coming form a 53 year veteran.
LeBeau declared his love for the city of Pittsburgh, but the fate of his employment was "up to coach Tomlin. LeBeau also reportedly told his players in a meeting earlier in the week that he would be back to coordinate them, unless Tomlin had other plans. In the spirit of "If it ain't broke", little reason can be seen for Tomlin to make wholesale changes to his premier level defense.
Todd Haley, who signed with the Steelers prior to the 2012 season, replaced Bruce Arians as the offensive coordinator. All season long, his offense has struggled to adapt to the new philosophy, only adding to the rumors about a possible rift between Haley and his new quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. However, both Roethlisberger and Haley have spoken to enjoying working with each other, and anticipation of a better performance in 2013. Injuries also plagued the offensive side of the ball amongst other distractions, but overall statistical lines were improved while decreasing the number of unnecessary hits absorbed by the team's franchise quarterback.
As the Steelers record began to plummet, and the offense was forced to accept blame for several key losses, rumors began to fly about possibly replacing Todd Haley after this season. He was considered a top candidate to replace former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. However, Haley took advantage of his final interview to put those rumors to rest.
On Thursday, Haley was asked about the rumors started by Jason La Canfora, who reported that Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell was considering Haley to replace Whisenhunt. Haley gave this reply:
"Really it isn’t anything I am thinking about. I’ve said a bunch of times and even when I came in and sat down with (Mike Tomlin) earlier on, this is where I want to be. I am happy being here and want to finish this year in the right manor to kind of push us in the offseason and get ready to get better next year."
Haley also pointed out how much he enjoys being a coordinator, as opposed to a head coach.
"I have almost three years experience doing that and I needle (Tomlin) about this: It is a lot more fun than what you have to do deal with. In some ways, it is because you get to coach and work with the players on a daily basis and interact all the time. It is the closest thing to being out there."
Haley's offense will look to improve in the same categories that LeBeau's unit struggled in: 3rd downs and goal line situations; but Haley feels confident that the offense will run much more smoothly in its second year under his tutelage. Although, the Steelers had been the best in the NFL on 3rd downs before Roethlisberger suffered his unique injury. Perhaps if the Steelers can manage to open the 2013 season fully healthy, neither unit will be forced to suffer the regressions from 2012.
Apparently the only thing that will get Haley out of Pittsburgh is a pink slip; and LeBeau a gold watch.