Sharon High School graduate Teryl Austin didn’t get to coaching for his nearby pro franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers, until 2019. By the time the team hired him as its secondary coach and senior defensive assistant, Troy Polamalu was well into retirement, and nearing induction into the Hall of Fame.
Austin did get to see Polamalu in his prime, though, from an opposing sideline. In stints coaching for the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, and Baltimore Ravens, Austin faced Polamalu and the Steelers several times: Twice a year with the archival Ravens, and then in Super Bowls XL and XLIII with Seahawks and Cardinals, respectively.
Ahead of Polamalu’s induction into the Hall on August 7, the man in charge of the current group of Steeler defensive backs was asked about one of the greatest in team history during a media session at training camp. Polamalu’s adversary had nothing but compliments for the star, even likening him to another of the greatest safeties in modern NFL history.
“I happened to see Troy a couple times and then when I was at Baltimore with Ed [Reed]. Those guys, like Troy, you can put them anywhere, and they’re dangerous. Some guys, if they’re down in the box, you know about them, that’s where they’re really good,” Austin said. “Troy was unique in the sense that he could be anywhere on the field and make a great play, a game-changing play. And I think when you watch him just as a fan of football, you really loved that about him.”
Polamalu was known for his versatility. From signature leaps over the offensive line on a perfectly timed snap, to highlight reel defensive touchdowns, to making plays using his top-end speed, Polamalu shined wherever he lined up, from safety to linebacker to just off the line of scrimmage. That all-around skill is what earned him four All-Pro nods, eight Pro Bowl appearances, a Defensive Player of the Year Award, and a spot on the league’s All-Decade team for the 2000s (alongside Reed).
In no way has he put together a career on the level of Polamalu’s yet, but Austin’s description of Polamalu drew immediate comparisons to the current All-Pro superstar safety leading the team’s secondary: Minkah Fitzpatrick, who Austin has coached the last two seasons and who carries a similar level of versatility that has made him one of the best in the game today. That drew an immediate follow-up question for Austin, who lauded his current player, but did not consider him a direct model of the Hall of Famer.
“Well we don’t blitz Minkah as much, and Minkah’s not jumping over the pile and all that good stuff. They’re different kinds of guys. But Minkah is obviously a fine, fine, fine, fine football player, and I’m glad we’ve got him,” Austin said.