News is beginning to trickle out about the Titans interest in some assistant coaches as they look to replace their likely outgoing offensive coordinator and fill the vacant defensive coordinator job. Earlier today, we passed along news of Mike Vrabel reaching out to Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and now we have a report that Tennessee is interviewing Steelers secondary coach Teryl Austin for the defensive coordinator position, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
First, this is a reassuring sign that Vrabel recognized the defensive issues the Titans had in 2020 and is not simply burying his head in the sand with regards to the role that his coaching staff may have played in those struggles. But more importantly, Austin is a highly regarded defensive mind with playcalling experience.
Vrabel likes to hire from coaching circles that he trusts and Austin checks that box twice. He worked for Vrabel’s former-boss-turned-rival Urban Meyer as Florida’s defensive coordinator in 2010 — his first turn as a defensive playcaller — and then worked with retired Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees as a secondary coach for the Ravens from 2011 to 2013.
Following his time in Baltimore, Austin got his first NFL coordinating gig, handling the Lions defense from 2014 to 2017 before taking on the same role with the Bengals in 2018. His results in those years are mixed. His best season was his first, when the Lions ranked top five in almost every defensive category. The worst was his most recent season in Cincinnati when the Bengals ranked bottom five in most categories.
For the past two years, Austin has been coaching defensive backs for the Steelers, helping make Pittsburgh one of the best defenses in the NFL despite having relatively pedestrian talent in the secondary outside of Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Austin was widely considered a hot head coaching candidate during his run as Lions defensive coordinator and even interviewed for the Titans head job back in 2016 when Jon Robinson first arrived in Nashville so there are lots of connections here.
As a coordinator, Austin largely ran a 4-3 front, but has been working in a predominately 3-4 system in Pittsburgh the last couple years. The Titans have been a majority 3-4 base going all the way back to Dick LeBeau’s arrival in 2015, but given the multiplicity of this defense and how often they’re in subpackages, I’m not sure that delineation really matters much anymore.
Austin is known to be outstanding at connecting with players and his specialty in the secondary has helped produce some monster seasons from guys like Fitzpatrick, Darius Slay, and Jimmy Smith over the years. You would certainly expect him to have a positive impact on Titans like Adoree’ Jackson, Kristian Fulton, Kevin Byard, and Amani Hooker if he were to come to Nashville.
However, my guess is that Vrabel will be reaching out to multiple candidates in this search. We may or may not get news of everyone that he talks with, but we will share what we do find out here.