Sharon native, Pitt alum Teryl Austin back in town working for Steelers
It was 28 years ago a recent Pitt graduate by the name of Teryl Austin had wrapped up a brief playing career in the CFL and moved on to his life’s work, taking a job at the local Coca-Cola bottler.
Austin, then in his mid-20s, on occasion would run into a 30-something who was the outside linebackers and special teams coach at Penn State, Tom Bradley.
Austin, as he told it Wednesday from Pittsburgh Steelers minicamp, was fired from his gig at Coca-Cola — but it might have been the best thing that happened to him.
“That’s how I ended up getting into coaching,” Austin said, “believe it or not.”
“He sat in my office (at Penn State),” Bradley recalled Wednesday, “going back with Coach (Joe) Paterno … I’ve known (Austin) since high school.”
For the first time since 1992, Bradley and Austin will be working together. Austin was hired in January as the Steelers’ senior defensive assistant and secondary coach. Bradley, who once recruited Austin from Sharon almost four decades ago, is in his second season as Steelers defensive backs coach.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in Pittsburgh permanently,” Austin said from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex fields Wednesday, “so it’s different. But it’s good. Love the city, love the people, so you can’t beat that.”
Their job titles scream of redundancy, but the long relationship between Austin and Bradley seems to be fostering a good working relationship. Instead of a division labor in which one, for example, tutors the safeties and the other the cornerbacks, the pair of veteran coaches is taking a shared, holistic approach.
“Getting the whole perspective from both of us,” Austin said, “because I feel as if we both have a lot to offer. I didn’t want to, when we did the room, we didn’t want to stifle it and say, ‘One guy is the lead guy, one guy is the second guy.’ So we float back and forth between corners and safeties and we do whatever we think is necessary for our guys that day in order to get ready for the week.”
Austin has coached football every autumn since his 1991 coaching baptism in State College. He’s been in the NFL for all but one season (2010 at Florida) since 2003, and he was a defensive coordinator the past five seasons.
Austin downplayed any additional duties the “senior defensive assistant” part of his job title might entail, other than being in charge of the Steelers’ replay-challenge decision-making during games.
“I know my boundaries and what my role is, and I think that’s important,” Austin said. “Same thing I talk about with my players: know what your role is, do your role the best you can and go from there. And that’s it.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he likewise has known Austin dating to the 1990s, when they were college assistants.
“I have always had a great deal of respect for him,” Tomlin said. “His experience and expertise will be an asset to us.”
Austin once was considered a prime NFL head-coaching candidate, and he reportedly interviewed for multiple jobs a few years back. It’s easy to see why: Austin’s communication skills and personability are readily apparent.
“He’s been helpful for us, and he’s going to be helpful for us in the back end in terms of certain situational football,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “He’s got some things he wants to put (into the defensive scheme), and I’ve got no problem with that, particularly if it’s helpful for us.”
Bradley pointed out because the modern NFL requires five to seven defensive backs on the field at once, having one man coach the entire secondary proved unwieldy.
Austin’s addition to the staff has been welcomed.
“I appreciate having Coach Austin,” starting free safety Sean Davis said. “I feel like he’s going to take my game to the next level. Now we’ve got two coaches, so nothing gets past them, nothing is going to slip through the cracks. So if Coach Bradley misses something, then Coach TA is gonna do it and he’s going to vice versa.
“Another set of eyes, another coach, another mind, is nothing but beneficial for the secondary.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .