Caldwell predicts Austin will land head coaching job

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was among the hottest coaching candidates this offseason, interviewing for four head coaching jobs and being the runner-up for at least one.

Coach Jim Caldwell offered advice to Austin as he pursued a promotion, but Austin’s work with the Lions defense and during his 24-year coaching career spoke for itself.

“Yeah, I was surprised he didn’t get one this time, to be honest with you,” Caldwell told local reporters at the NFL combine Thursday. “But I would anticipate that he’s going to get an opportunity here within the next couple years.”

In January, Austin interviewed for the Falcons, Bears, 49ers and Bills. If Austin eventually leaves, it’d be difficult for the Lions to find someone as in tune with the players as he was in 2014. Caldwell hopes he has more chances to become a head coach, but for now, he is glad Austin will be back in 2015.

Last season, the Lions defense ranked first against the run, second overall and third in points allowed, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, linebacker DeAndre Levy and safety Glover Quin all elevated their status as top-level players at their respective positions.

“One of the things that is very important in our league is continuity, but you only are able to sustain continuity in this league … if you win or perform well,” Caldwell said. “Our defense performed well, so that continuity is very important to us. He has obviously a very, very resourceful mind. He does a great job in terms of communicating. He’s a very, very special breed and just an unusual guy.”

When the Lions hired Caldwell, the expectation was the offense would lead the team. Caldwell’s history is on offense, and with the team adding Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator after seven years working with Drew Brees, quarterback Matthew Stafford was supposed to improve and lead a high-powered attack.

Instead, the offense struggled, but the defense kept the Lions in nearly every game as Austin thrived in his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator.

“Usually in your first year, you’re going to run into a bunch of issues and problems with communication and learning and development and all those kinds of things,” Caldwell said. “Our staff was able to overcome a lot of that, and I think that’s because of his leadership and the other guys that we have there on the staff there as well have done a great job.”

As well as the Lions defense played in 2014, Austin’s head coaching dreams could hinge in part on the success of the team in 2015. And if Suh leaves in free agency, Austin’s job will be that much harder, but Caldwell thinks he’ll be a candidate regardless.

“In his particular case, I think he supersedes anything that could happen in that regard because there’s been a number of teams now that have been exposed to him, had an opportunity to kind of see his work,” Caldwell said. “But I don’t anticipate a dip in terms of performance either for our team, so I think he’ll do a great job in that area. And I also think at some point in time he’ll get a head coaching job as well.”