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Teryl Austin Tackling Defensive Coordinator Role With Poise, Confidence



PITTSBURGH — Taking over a new position, even with previous experience, can be a bit jarring for people in the football world. When that job is a coordinator position, however, it really can be tough to keep an even-keeled approach. Teryl Austin is now the Steelers’ defensive coordinator, but he does not want to change the fabric of who he is as a person. Whether that is working with the players or game planning, Austin is still the same guy.

The team is noticing that in Austin’s approach as well. He is not trying to be someone he is not. Austin knows that he is not Keith Butler, and they have different perspectives. But this is Austin’s defense and he has his own approach to the defense that he takes. It is maintaining that authenticity that Austin is hoping pays dividends for himself in a chemistry sense and with his players. If there is one identity-laden thing that Austin wants, however, it is an aggressive defense.

“If there is anything for my fingerprints on this defense, it’s that we’re going to be an aggressive defense,” Austin said. “We’ll be disciplined, sound, and won’t give up big plays. We will keep scores low. We want to give ourselves chances to win. Good defense requires getting off blocks, tackling, stopping the ball, and turning the ball over.”

That may be the football side of things. Austin comes from a Cover 2, base 4-3 background, but he will not be switching the Steelers into anything too crazy. On the personable side of things, Austin wants to do things differently than Butler. He is a secondary first coach whereas Butler was a defensive line first coach. Even more than that, Austin is a little bit more laid back while Butler was more eccentric. It leaves room for Austin to take liberties in his teaching approach off the field and how he wants to instill a culture.

“I don’t know any other way to approach this job other than my own,” Austin said. “I’m a different person. I’ll approach it how I always approach it. I think that’s gonna be the best way to do it. I don’t want to reinvent myself.”

The new responsibilities that Austin carries with him now are the ability to call plays. That will be something that Austin wants to work with as a balance. There is a dedicated hierarchy between himself, Mike Tomlin, and Brian Flores on who may call plays, but Austin wants to be able to allow each coach to flourish. That is something that Austin himself is trying to do by staying true to himself.

“Well, it shakes out like a normal staff,” Austin said of the dynamic. “You have a coordinator who puts things together and then there’s input from the staff and the head coach comes and adds what he wants to add. Coach Tomlin will have things he wants to see in this defense because it’s his team. I want our staff to be able to throw out ideas they have. And anything can happen on game day and anyone on our staff should be able to call plays when necessary.”

For Austin, it might take up a little bit more time of his day. It may even hurt his golf game just a little bit. There are wholesale changes that occur when taking a promotion like this one, and Austin feels the burden of those. Some of those are personal, and others are the fact that he now works largely in the macro instead of the micro. As such, Austin is taking a different approach to the entire season.

“They’re killing my golf game,” Austin joked. “But really, you touch more rooms because you are overseeing everything. The thing I miss is being in my room and coaching guys up. I had that hands-on experience with them. I get out here a little earlier and get a chance to work with Grady (Brown). I keep my hand in there. That’s always been the thing with this promotion. You get out of that room. That’s the part that you really miss as a coach. That day-to-day interaction with players, coaches, and equipment staff. You don’t get to see the growth up close as much.”

Coming from the Lions and Bengals as a former defensive coordinator, Austin has walked this path before. There are plenty of lessons he has taken away from those stints. The growth he has as a coach is something that occurs with them as well. Austin is looking for the growth that he learned from those two jobs to come over and incorporate itself better into the Steelers defensive coordinator job.

“There are so many lessons I have from those jobs,” Austin said. “They are both good and bad. I’ll keep those to myself. There are things I want to do better. But there are things I thought I did well that I have to make sure I do again. It’s all about the part of coaching. You are trying to grow and improve. Every year, you have to figure out where you came out short. I am a better all-around coach.”

The same Teryl Austin or ‘TA’ as he is known around the building will show up day in and day out. Austin does not want to change who he is fundamental. Having been in the building for three years, people know who Austin is and his personality. That is a strength for him to connect on a personal level with everyone.

“I’m just me, man,” Austin said. “I’m going to be me. I know nothing else. So, I don’t try to change. I don’t say ‘now that I’m doing something different, now I’m different.’ I do things the way I’ve done them. My role has expanded, and there’s more I have to get done.”

With Austin at the helm, the Steelers could see some shifts. But they will not see a shift in who Austin is or his philosophical mentality toward the game of football. That may just be why he was promoted. However, the excitement to see what Austin can do is palpable around the building.

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