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Time was right for Dick LeBeau and the Steelers to part ways

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His legacy as father of the zone blitz is well documented. His Hall-of-Fame career both as a player and coach is cemented in Canton. But the time was right for the Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to part ways on Saturday.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

All good thing must come to an end.

Even after an over achieving 11-5 season that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers return to the NFL Playoffs with a revamped defense that showed improvement in the 2nd half of the season, it wasn't enough for the club to keep it's defensive coordinator for another year.

On Saturday, Dick LeBeau and the team he has worked for on two occasions, including a 2nd stretch beginning in 2004, mutually agreed to separate.

Call it what you will, but this was a termination. One that had to happen.

I'm not here to bash DLB, no that's not fair. I get that players play and coordinators, much like a head coach can only do so much with the cards they are dealt. But the bottom line in coaching, like anything else in life, is measurable by wins and losses and the production needed to gain more wins over losses.

For LeBeau and his defenses the past three years, there simply wasn't enough yield from the farm.

Part of this equation is of course the players drafted and brought in via free agency that LeBeau has to work with. Mike Mitchell, hailed as a very good off-season pick up from Carolina was a total bust this year.

Also having aging veterans like Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu didn't help. Both were slow and battled injuries most of the season. Having them on the field was more of a liability than anything and it showed when they returned to play late in the regular season.

But in the end, even after adjustments and patchwork done to most of the secondary, linebackers and up front, it would prove to be not enough for both parties to keep working together.

Now the big question is who will replace LeBeau. Many are already speculating that Keith Butler, the Steelers linebacker coach since 2003 will replace him. His work with players like Joey Porter, James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, James Farrior and most recently Lawrence Timmons has prepared him to take what many think is the next step in his coaching career.

It would serve the Steelers well to go out and interview several candidates outside the organization before making this decision. I would imagine they will do just that. It would only make sense to do so. Even if Butler is the heir apparent, you don't serve your organization properly by not making the effort so shop around and see what's available.

Even at the ripe old age of 77, LeBeau said he's not done coaching, telling Steve Stout, a reporter from the Urban Citizen on Saturday that "I'm resigning this position, not retiring. I had a great run in Pittsburgh. I'm grateful for all the tings that have happened to me and thankful for all the support I had in Pittsburgh."

I've got a feeling his next step will involve a call to a certain 'retired' former Steelers offensive coordinator, turned retired head coach in Bruce Arians. I don't see LeBeau working as a DC at this point of his career, but some assistant on what is an already good defense will probably help with the Arizona Cardinals efforts in the very rugged NFC West.

It is the end of an era. It came at the right time. The Steelers needed to break away from LeBeau and start over. Let's see what direction the team goes in regarding his replacement.

John Phillips is a radio personality for 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh and a columnist for Behind The Steel Curtain. Check him out on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.