The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Teryl Austin will be the (nominal) defensive coordinator for the Steelers in 2022.
Explanation: Head coach Mike Tomlin said that he was not anticipating any major changes to his staff this season, but also said he wouldn’t be surprised. He also said Keith Butler could retire. Tomlin has had a deep imprint on the defense since the team moved on from Dick LeBeau. Teryl Austin, a former defensive coordinator, has been with the team as a senior defensive assistant for the past three years.
Given the Steelers’ strong tendency to promote from within, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the team’s defensive coordinator for the 2022 season is already on the staff. Keith Butler’s contract expires after this season, if I’m not mistaken. He will almost surely ‘retire’, whether by choice or by force.
It’s a given that Tomlin will have a significant amount of control over the defense in 2022, which means that he will not be bringing in anybody who expects to run their own show. Austin felt like someone who was being groomed for that role when he was first hired, quite frankly, in 2019, coming off the heels of a half-year in Cincinnati as defensive coordinator so bad that he was fired midseason, with Marvin Lewis taking over the defense.
The Baltimore Ravens may have recently talked about Ben Roethlisberger as though he is a supernatural or mechanical Hollywood villain (or hero), but it’s actually Keith Butler whom you can’t kill. Every year fans talk hopefully about him being on the chopping block. Every year, he comes back, dadgummits in toe. He may not know which tight ends are on the active roster, but he knows he has a job under Tomlin, even if it’s in title.
Speaking of which, it’s becoming increasingly unanimous that that’s largely what role Butler serves. Tomlin already shares at least co-defensive coordinator responsibilities, including play-calling contributions. He would be as much to blame for any defensive struggles in the first place.
If he does decide to retire, the Steelers have moved outside the organization in the past. Todd Haley was an outside hire. Matt Canada was only with the team for one year when he was promoted, and that first year felt like a grooming situation in the first place.
Austin already has an important role on this team, and they would have to add another secondary coach if he were promoted. It would make more sense if they actually bring in an outside coordinator. Or they could even promote somebody like Jerry Olsavsky, instead, as a wild card candidate. Karl Dunbar would be another option. Austin’s already had his stints as coordinator and he’s failed.