By: Will Burchfield
Teryl Austin has gained significant momentum the past two years in his search for a head coaching job in the NFL. The Lions defensive coordinator interviewed with four teams in both the 2014 and 2015 offseasons, very nearly landing the gig with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015.
Last week, he was named one of six recommended replacements for potential head-coaching vacancies by the NFL's Career Development Advisory Panel. (Also nominated was Jim Harbaugh.) It's the second time Austin has cracked this list in as many years, and Jim Caldwell isn't surprised Austin is such a popular candidate.
"He should be, he should be every year, Caldwell said.
And the Lions' head coach believes it's only a matter of time before Austin, 51, follows in his footsteps and lands a gig at the top of the sideline totem pole.
"He should get one, he should have had one last year or the year before. I believe in that," Caldwell said, "but it's not the time to talk about it."
Austin has made clear his desire to be an NFL head coach. But when asked if he'll do anything differently this offseason in his search for that elusive job, he cooled the speculation.
"I don't even know if that's worth answering. I know you have to ask the question but I'm not even worried about that right now, been through two years of that," he said. "What I'm worried about right now, the best thing I can do, is worry about our team and what we're going to do. I think all that other stuff means nothing."
In 2014, Austin's first season as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, he presided over a Lions' defense that allowed the second fewest yards and third fewest points in the league. That unit slipped last year, hampered by the loss of Ndamukong Suh (free agency) and DeAndre Levy (injury), but rallied toward the end of the season - a strong reflection of Austin's leadership.
This season has followed a similar pattern. After struggling on defense through the first seven games, the Lions have held their opponents to 20 points of fewer in each of the last five contests.
"I think that every year he's done a tremendous job. He did before he came here," Caldwell said. "He's been an outstanding coach from years back when I first took him with me to Wake Forest in 1993. We were together at Penn State (from 1991 to 1992) and years before that you could see all the trademarks of a guy who's going to be really exceptional at what he does. And I think he's doing the same thing today. He makes adjustments. He's got the spirit and fire to move a group and he's very knowledgeable."
Told of Caldwell backing him for a head coaching position, Austin said, "It's flattering."
"But like I said, there's nothing I can do about whether I should have been or whether I could have been. If it ever comes, it comes. If it doesn't, I know I'll do a good job wherever I am, doing whatever I'm doing. So that's all I worry about. But I think it's a great compliment from Jim and I appreciate that," he added.
When asked if he would considering being a college head coach, Austin laughed.
"We're getting way out there right now, aren't we? Right now, I'm worried about this (team.) It's the only one I've got to take care of. If I don't take care of this one, all that other stuff means nothing," he said. "And I think we've run that base path before, right?"
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