Commentary

LeBeau a long shot for Hall of Fame

Much to his players' chagrin, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a long shot to make the Hall of Fame, writes John Clayton.

Originally Published: January 30, 2009
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Minutes after the Steelers' 23-14 victory over the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, the "Dick LeBeau for Hall of Fame" campaign started in the Steelers' locker room.

"Coach LeBeau should be in the Hall of Fame,'' cornerback Deshea Townsend told reporters. "Make sure you all put that in big print. He should get in for the body of work he's done.''

[+] EnlargeDick LeBeau
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesThe Hall of Fame might not have room for Dick LeBeau, even though he has impressive credentials.

Even though the campaign has a worthy subject, it will be hard for Hall of Fame voters to deliver after LeBeau retires. The backlog of worthy Hall of Fame candidates makes it extremely difficult for contributors such as coaches and even former commissioner Paul Tagliabue to make it without a long wait.

Every year, 17 finalists are considered for seven possible spots. Two are senior candidates, meaning they have been retired at least 25 years, and are nominated by the Seniors Committee, leaving only five possible spots for modern-day nominees.

Take the Class of 2009, for example. It's likely former Bills defensive end Bruce Smith and former Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson will make it as first-ballot Hall of Famers. That leaves three spots for 13 others, including wide receivers Cris Carter and Andre Reed, and top pass-rushers Richard Dent and Derrick Thomas.

Another problem is the wait for coaches to be eligible. Because of Bill Parcells' many unretirements, the Hall of Fame voted to make coaches wait five years after they retire to be eligible for selection. LeBeau, 71, is still coaching and thriving. Another problem facing LeBeau is the competition. Voters will have to determine where LeBeau fits in compared to the top head coaches of his era -- Bill Belichick, Parcells, Mike Holmgren and others.

Excluding place-kickers, there are 13 positions under constant evaluation. When you add a commissioner, owners, head coaches and assistants to the mix, it becomes difficult to squeeze all the worthy candidates into three to five openings each year.

LeBeau's case for the Hall of Fame involves decades of great defensive play calling along with the creation of the zone defensive scheme to counter West Coast offenses. As a player, he had 62 interceptions but didn't make the Hall of Fame. Undaunted, LeBeau's players will try to use the Super Bowl platform to make his case.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer