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The Steelers are promoting senior defensive assistant and secondary coach Teryl Austin to defensive coordinator. The move should become official soon.
Some in Steelers Nation are up in arms that Tomlin is promoting another assistant to a coordinator position, but if Tomlin is calling the plays as Keith Butler mentioned on his way out the door and into retirement, does it really matter that Austin is the defensive coordinator?
Sure, Austin will help with schematics and game planning, but if he's not the one calling the plays. He's really just the de facto defensive coordinator.
Butler said he never called plays during his tenure as the Steelers' defensive coordinator from 2015-2021, and that Tomlin called the plays late in LeBeau's tenure, as well. I'm not sure if that's entirely true, but that's what Butler said. It didn't seem like Tomlin had as much control when Butler first got the position. Maybe Butler was just not a good play-caller and Tomlin had to take over.
Tomlin has every right to be the defensive play-caller. He's the head coach. It's no different than how Andy Reid. Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan are offensive play-callers for their respective teams. I just don't know why Tomlin made it such a secret all these years.
It should be interesting to see if Tomlin hands over play-calling duties to Austin. Maybe Tomlin will trust Austin more than Butler. The Steelers ranked dead last in run defense and yards allowed per carry in 2021, but I think that had more to do with personnel than Tomlin's play-calling. They really missed Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt on the defensive line, and the inside linebacker play was horrendous.
However, the Steelers have allowed at least 42 points in each of their last three playoff games, all of which were losses. And if you go back to the 2016 AFC Championship Game loss to the Patriots, the Steelers have surrendered 171 points in their last four playoff games combined. That's an NFL record for points allowed in four straight playoff games, and that falls on Tomlin since he's the one calling the plays after all.
Austin has experience as a defensive coordinator in the NFL and is highly regarded as a secondary coach. He did some good things during his tenure with the Lions as a defensive coordinator from 2014-2017, but he was let go after Jim Caldwell was fired. Austin was hired as the Bengals' defensive coordinator in 2018, but the stint didn't last long. Austin was fired in the middle of the season after his defense allowed 500-plus yards in three consecutive games, which is an NFL record. However, it should be noted that Austin really didn't have much talent to work with in Cincinnati.
Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Sutton raved about Austin when the were asked about what he brings to the table as a coach in January.
"TA, he's a great coach," Fitzpatrick said in January. "I'm not going to talk too good about him because I want him to stay in Pittsburgh. I know everybody else is trying to get at him. He's a great coach. I love his attention to detail, the way that he approaches the game, the way he lets the players have a voice. A lot of coaches don't really let players have a voice. I'm appreciative of that."
"He's a real personable person who really enjoys what he does," Sutton said. "He's a guy who really comes energized every single day, from start to finish, feeling his best, feeling his worst, you name it. A guy who's always pushing all his chips into the middle of the table to help us collectively."
We'll have to see if Tomlin has enough trust in Austin to call plays. If not, Austin being named the defensive coordinator really doesn't mean a whole lot. It will just be the same as the last several years with Tomlin calling the shots on defense.