Like his predecessors, new Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin had already previously been a member of the coaching staff in a lesser role before being promoted (or in the case of Dick LeBeau, brought back at a later point in time) to lead the defense. Will his role differ from that of Keith Butler’s and end-of-tenure LeBeau?
Speaking to reporters during OTAs yesterday, he shockingly would not give an entirely clear answer, but did offer that he would be functioning “like a normal staff where you have the coordinator who’s coordinating and putting things together”, according to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
So what exactly does that mean? He wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that he would be calling the bulk of the plays during times (a role that Mike Tomlin has wielded for himself for going on a decade), allowing that “anything can happen on game day”.
Tomlin inherited not just LeBeau but also Butler, it is worth noting, when he took over the Steelers’ head-coaching job in 2007. LeBeau had already been defensive coordinator for three seasons, and Butler was there as linebackers coach for four seasons. For some time, Butler had already received a proverbial ‘handshake agreement’ that he would be LeBeau’s successor to the defensive coordinator job when the time came.
That time finally came in 2015, and Butler was the defensive coordinator for the past seven seasons. But now Austin is leading that group, and he is a coach whom Tomlin himself went out and hired—indeed, he created a new role in the coaching staff for him, naming him Senior Defensive Assistant, a title heretofore nonexistent in Pittsburgh.
Does that mean it’s more likely that Tomlin will be willing to allow Austin greater control over what happens during games than he seemingly did with Butler, and with LeBeau in his final seasons? Frankly, I’m going to guess no…but…maybe?
One of the most persistent themes of Tomlin’s tenure as head coach was the notion of ‘we don’t care where good ideas come from’. Every gameplan is a collaborative process. Yet he has largely wielded the defensive playcalling responsibilities himself in recent years.
“We have input from the staff”, Austin said of the ‘normal staff’ he alluded to earlier, “and the head coach comes in and adds what he wants to add and the things that he wants to see in his defense because it is his team. And then we go from there, and we build our defense”.
He also highlighted the phrase “our defense”, making it clear that it is indeed collaborative. Still, it would be curious to find out how Austin’s responsibilities may or may not differ from Butler’s. Even he didn’t seem to know for sure, or at least wasn’t willing to say.