The Pittsburgh Steelers have had exactly three defensive coordinators since the 2004 season. Dick LeBeau returned to the city that year and remained on the job until 2014, when linebackers coach Keith Butler took over until he retired after the 2021 season.
Butler was the first to acknowledge, after he retired, that it was head coach Mike Tomlin calling most of the defensive plays. He even said that went back to the last years of LeBeau’s tenure. Presumably, it hasn’t changed much under Teryl Austin. But something has, Gerry Dulac suggested.
He was writing in defense of Austin in light of the loss of senior defensive assistant Brian Flores. Some, he argued, have made too much of the loss of Flores and its impact on the defense, and that that takes too much credit away from Austin.
“Austin was given a little more leeway than his predecessor in the running of the Steelers defense”, he wrote, with Butler obviously being his predecessor. “He is the person responsible for formulating a game plan”.
He also wrote earlier in the piece that “to think [Flores’ departure] will cripple the Steelers defense is unfair to the job Teryl Austin did with some additional freedom in his first year as a defensive coordinator”, though he also noted Tomlin’s prevalence in the pecking order in the same sentence.
Dulac unfortunately did not elaborate on his claims, which would have been helpful while making the argument that Flores’ loss was not as significant because of the role Austin serves. Perhaps somebody can ask him in a future chat session exactly how Austin’s authority differs from that of Butler’s.
Not that it makes any difference for practical reasons, but it’s been established over the years that fans want to know exactly who is doing what. And given the impression that Tomlin is doing everything, it’s been a topic of speculation regarding their candidates for the coordinator job over the years.
So what exactly is Austin doing that Butler wasn’t? Dulac’s most concrete comment is that he is “the person responsible for formulating a game plan”. In what way is he responsible for that that Butler was not? Beyond that, he simply said that Austin has “a little more leeway” and “some additional freedom”.
Truly, I hope that one of you participates in Dulac’s next chat and poses him this question. What additional freedom does Austin have as Tomlin’s defensive coordinator that his predecessor did not enjoy? This is an assignment.