Kevin Gorman: Teryl Austin looking for bounce-back season with Steelers
Teryl Austin can joke about how coaching for the Pittsburgh Steelers has fixed friendships but fractured the family that has followed his 15-year NFL career from Seattle to Arizona to Baltimore to Detroit to his short stay in Cincinnati.
“I got a lot of friends that are talking to me again,” said Austin, a Sharon native who played at Pitt from 1983-87. “All of my friends from back here talk to me now.”
For his five children, it’s a different story.
“My kids didn’t talk to me,” Austin said, with a laugh. “My kids don’t like the Steelers too much because we lost two Super Bowls to them. But I understand our business. My goal is, whatever team I’m at I want to try my best to help them win a Super Bowl. That’s why I’m here.”
Hired in January as a senior defensive assistant and secondary coach, Austin could be one of the most important offseason additions to the Steelers’ Super Bowl hopes.
It’s not just because he’s been entrusted to serve as the Steelers’ eyes in the sky from the coaching booth. That job comes with assisting on challenges, where Mike Tomlin has lost his last nine attempts the past two seasons.
But, as Tomlin noted in training camp, Austin brings the experience of coaching in three Super Bowls – winning with the Ravens and losing to the Steelers with the Seahawks and Cardinals – as well as serving as a defensive coordinator for the Lions and interviewing for a handful of NFL head-coaching positions.
“Having an opportunity to win a Super Bowl and being there and losing – seeing them both – you kind of have an idea of what it takes to get there, if you have a team that has what it takes to get there,” said Austin, 54. “You might have the team but you still need some breaks. It’s been good for me. For me, professionally, I couldn’t ask for any more.”
Of course, Austin always wants more.
He is seeking redemption after recovering from the low point of his coaching career, when he was fired last November nine games into his tenure as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator. The decision came one day after a 51-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints, making NFL history as the first defense to allow 500-plus yards in three consecutive games.
“Nobody wants to go through that. It sucks,” Austin said. “In my mind, it wasn’t that the Bengals fired me, it was that I let them down because we didn’t play as well as we should have. That was my thing: How come I wasn’t able to help those guys get it done?”
Austin had two months to think about that, as he had time off in November and December for the first time in his 28-year coaching career. He was able to recharge and watch football from a different perspective, one that reinvigorated him.
“I learned something from this,” Austin said, “about how to refocus and regroup and all that stuff we tell our players about bouncing back from a tough situation, that one tough situation doesn’t define who you are – unless you let it – so now I’m in their shoes and I have to follow my own advice to them. I wasn’t afraid of not getting hired this year. I just wanted to make sure I picked the right place.”
Austin appears right at home with the Steelers, making a seamless transition after spending his career coaching against them. He demands that players are punctual, that they give great effort and treat their job like a craft. And he hasn’t hesitated to relate his experiences, sharing stories from winning the Super Bowl to losing his job last season.
“He’s been through the ups and downs of everything, the highest of highs and lowest of lows,” Steelers third-year cornerback Cameron Sutton said. “He’s not scared of expressing that. It’s something that he preaches to us every single day. It helps us put ourselves in the position to not have those things happen.
“He’s won. He’s won big. He’s familiar with the Steelers and our defense for a long time. It’s good to have a guy who’s been around, seen a lot to have that on our staff, especially our position group, and get to work with him.”
The addition of Austin gives the Steelers two coaches in the secondary, pairing him with Tom Bradley. They are in charge of the development of the young defensive backs the Steelers invested draft picks, from former first-rounders Artie Burns and Terrell Edmunds to third-rounders Sutton and Justin Layne.
“That’s the goal: That’s my job, to try to help our guys reach their potential, individually and collectively,” Austin said. “If I can do that, that’s successful for me, that’s a good bounce-back for me.”
And it might even get Austin’s kids to start talking to him again.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .