LeBeau intends on returning to Steelers in 2013

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PITTSBURGH (AP) - Armed with a promise from his beloved defensive coordinator that he wouldn’t retire without first informing his players, Ryan Clark threatened to avoid Dick LeBeau.

“I didn’t want to hear it, so I’ve told him, `If you try to leave, well, you didn’t see me and tell me, so you can’t,’” said Clark, the Steelers’ free safety. “`That would make you not to be a man of your word, and I know you as such.’”

Clark needn’t worry. The 75-year-old LeBeau has every intention of returning in 2013 for what would be a 55th consecutive season in the NFL.

LeBeau opened his first meeting of the week with his defense by telling players he’ll come back for a 10th season as Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator.

LeBeau, a Hall of Famer, publicly will only say his status is in the hands of head coach Mike Tomlin. But with the defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL for the second consecutive season and fifth time in nine years, there’s little reason to think Tomlin would make a change.

“Let’s just say I really like Pittsburgh and I really like working for the Steelers,” LeBeau said after practice Thursday. “Coach Tomlin will tell you if he wants me back or not. It will be up to Mike.”

Asked as a follow-up if he would come back if asked, LeBeau smiled and said, “I love Pittsburgh.”

The city has come to love LeBeau, too, after he orchestrated a defense that has ranked in the top five of the league in 10 of his 11 seasons as defensive coordinator. LeBeau also held the job in 1995-96 under former head coach Bill Cowher.

Not even the famed Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970’s _ statistically, at least _ can match what LeBeau’s units have accomplished. Only two Steelers teams during their run of four Super Bowl titles in six years under Chuck Noll were No. 1 in total defense.

Since LeBeau returned for his second stint with the franchise in 2004, the Steelers have been to three Super Bowls _ winning two _ and have had the No. 1 defense five times.

“We know he’s the best in the game,” veteran linebacker Larry Foote said. “I think everybody else around the league knows it. A lot of times in the games it turns into a chess match, and he wins his share.”

Known as the architect of the so-called “zone blitz,” LeBeau’s teams have been known for the confusion they cause and for their pressure on opposing quarterbacks. His record against rookie starting quarterbacks over the past nine years is 14-2.

His resume after more than a half-century in the league earns the respect of players _ but it’s his calm and fatherly demeanor that endears those who play for LeBeau to him.

They openly campaigned for LeBeau to get into the Hall of Fame for his 14-year career with the Detroit Lions that included 62 interceptions. LeBeau wept when, on New Year’s Day 2006, his players en masse showed up for a game against Detroit wearing his throwback No. 44 Lions jersey.

“One of the joys of coming to work as a Pittsburgh Steeler free safety is getting to see Coach Lebeau every year,” Clark said.

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