The 2022 offseason is and has been a major year of transition for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only did quarterback Ben Roethlisberger retire, Kevin Colbert also intends to step down from his general manager role following next month’s draft.
And Keith Butler, the longest-tenured member of the organization short of John Mitchell, also retired. Butler had been the team’s defensive coordinator since 2015, but had been here since before Dick LeBeau’s return.
While he did not have complete control of the defense during his time, which he openly acknowledged upon his retirement, the change in personnel will bring changes to the defense as well. Teryl Austin was promoted to that role from senior defensive assistant, and now Brian Flores, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, where he called the defense, has been brought in as a senior defensive assistant this year.
Still, defensive captain Cameron Heyward doesn’t expect a lot to change, structurally, as he told Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks last night on the Move the Sticks podcast. “I think the foundation stays the same. We have a lot of returning players, and I don’t think you want to mess that up too much, because they’re has been success there”, he told his hosts.
“But having a guy like TA and a guy like Flo, both of them are gonna bring different ideas, whether it’s back-end or front-end”, he added. “They both have experience being defensive coordinators and have had a lot of success”.
Austin has been coaching for more than three decades, entering the NFL as a defensive backs coach for the Seattle Seahawks in 2003. He first held a defensive coordinator title in 2014 with the Detroit Lions, a job he held for four years, before spending the 2018 season in that role with the Cincinnati Bengals. He has been in Pittsburgh as an assistant since 2019.
As for Flores, he spent a very long time in the New England Patriots organization, beginning as a scouting intern and eventually working his way to the coaching staff, where he wore many hats over the years. He was hired as head coach of the Dolphins in 2019, where he also acted as defensive coordinator. Despite outperforming expectations, he was fired this offseason. He agreed to join Mike Tomlin’s staff—for now, at least, until he gets another shot at a promotion as early as 2023.
“I think it just only enhances what we have. I know they’re very excited to get to work”, Heyward said of the promotion of Austin and the addition of Flores to the defensive brain trust, both of whom will work in collaboration with Tomlin to formulate the defense. “Keith Butler has been awesome for us over the years, but it doesn’t hurt to have a fresh face in there, and now we’ve got two of them. TA’s been around, but now he’s driving the ship”.
Or, at least, he’s sitting next to Tomlin and watching him drive, I suppose. He gets to hold the wheel while Tomlin is cracking open a cold one from time to time or has to ‘water the seas’, so to speak, I suppose.