2022 Offseason Questions: Will Teryl Austin Have Any More Input As DC Than Keith Butler Did?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.

This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others.

Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor is heading into free agency, as is Trai Turner.

These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Will Teryl Austin have any more input on the defense than did Keith Butler as defensive coordinator?

While it hasn’t yet been officially announced, the inevitable reports surfaced yesterday that the Steelers are preparing to name Teryl Austin their next defensive coordinator, succeeding Keith Butler after seven seasons in the seat.

Austin, who has been a defensive coordinator multiple times in other cities, most notably Detroit, is already a current member of the Steelers’ staff. His title since being brought in for the 2019 season is Senior Defensive Assistant/Secondary.

Many have seen him as the de facto defensive backs coach even though they have a true defensive backs coach in title in Grady Brown. Austin’s job in Pittsburgh has always transcended mere position work, however, and probably most ably falls under the title of assistant head coach.

But the title of defensive coordinator has come to mean less than it does in most other NFL cities over the course of the past decade, as that is when head coach Mike Tomlin began to more greatly assert himself into those responsibilities, including, most notably, taking over in-game play-calling responsibilities, or the bulk of them, anyway.

Butler, on his way out, told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Tomlin had already begun calling the plays in Dick LeBeau’s final years. He did it all of Butler’s tenure. With another in-house promotion, what are the odds that that setup changes? Not great, I would imagine.

Aditi Kinkhabwala went so far as the say that Butler not only never called but never designed a defense in Pittsburgh. It’s not like she ever elaborated on what she meant by ‘designing’ a defense, so it’s hard to gauge just exactly how significant a claim that is. Inevitably, we won’t be able to concretely compare and contrast the amount of authority Austin has relative to Butler in his time. But even if we can’t answer it, it feels a legitimate question to ask. And I’m sure Tomlin will be asked about it in numerous different ways the next time he’s in front of a microphone.

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