‘I’m ready’: Lions’ Austin still waiting for head coach job

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Teryl Austin talks with reporters after practice on Thursday.

Allen Park — After the Lions’ No. 2-ranked defense carried the team to the postseason in 2014, it looked like defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was set to become an NFL head coach.

He interviewed with four teams — Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Buffalo — after that season, but couldn’t land a promotion.

So, surely, another good season from the Lions defense would be the push Austin needed for a head coaching job. The team couldn’t deliver in a 1-7 first half, but with a strong finish defensively, Austin was again a coaching candidate after the 2015 season.

Even with four more interviews, though, Austin is back in Detroit, hoping to lead a strong defense in his third season with the Lions.

“I wouldn’t call it frustrating because it’s really an honor to be interviewed, but I know I’m ready for a job,” Austin said Thursday. “I’ve just got to — somebody’s going to figure it out. That’s how I look at it.”

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If Austin is jilted, it didn’t show Thursday, but it’s clear that he thinks he’s proven enough to earn a chance to be a head coach. Now, he just has to convince one team to take chance.

“I can’t make anybody do anything they don’t want,” he said of not becoming a head coach. “All I can do is take care of my business here, and I’m confident in what I do and how I do things. And one day, one owner will find out.”

During the few minutes Austin spoke following Thursday’s organized team activities, and after his podium interview, he repeatedly mentioned the importance of ownership with regard to head coaching hires.

“There’s really no figuring it out,” he said. “It really all comes down to what the owner wants.”

And why didn’t Austin land a job?

“I can’t answer that,” he said. “If I owned a team, I’d tell you, but I don’t know.”

One potential reason Austin listed was that teams were looking for offensive coaches during the last hiring cycle. Out of the seven head coaches hired in 2016, all came from primarily offensive backgrounds.

“I guess that was the trend,” he said. “Maybe this year it’ll be some defensive guys who have an opportunity.”

Another potential factor in Austin’s experience so far could be race. Under the Rooney Rule, NFL teams have to interview a minority candidate before hiring a head coach, and as a black man, Austin fits the criteria.

And on Thursday, he told reporters that just two of his four interviews earlier this year were “legitimate.”

“Like a legitimate job interview,” Austin said, according to ESPN. “Like I had a legitimate shot at the job.”

Asked to clarify if he was referring to the Rooney Rule, Austin said, “Take it however you want.”

Despite falling short of a potential dream job, Austin is handling his business in Detroit, just as he has his first two years.

“Oftentimes it just takes time, and I think at some point in time that he’ll get his opportunity,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “But he shows no disappointment in terms of not getting one and that kind of stuff, no residual sort of effects. He’s a professional and his main focus and interest is getting our defense playing as well as they possibly can.”

In discussing his situation, the 51-year-old Austin mentioned Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who didn’t receive his first NFL head coaching job until 2013 when he was 60 — besides being interim head coach for the Colts in 2012. In Arians’ three seasons with Arizona, the Cardinals are 34-14 with two playoff berths and an NFC West title.

“If and when it comes,” Austin said, “I’m going to take advantage of it.”