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Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, and Justin Rogers look ahead to this weekend's game with the Bears and the Lions' playoff chances. Detroit News

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Allen Park — In 2015, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin interviewed to be the Chicago Bears head coach, a job that ultimately went to John Fox.

The two know each other well, going back three decades, when Austin was a starting safety at the University of Pittsburgh and Fox was hired as the school’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Austin didn’t immediately go into coaching following his time at Pitt. He spent a training camp with the Washington Redskins and another with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and played a season with the Montreal Machine of the defunct World League of American Football.

It wasn’t until after he exhausted his playing options, Austin drifted into coaching, signing on as a grad assistant at Penn State.

“He was a very smart player and that doesn’t surprise me,” Fox said. “We had probably a top-10 defense in the country, and he was pretty much the quarterback back there. So, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s taken to coaching and been as successful as he is.”

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Austin never directly sought Fox’s council when making the transition, but he was still impacted by relationship.

“He demanded the best out of us and I really always appreciated that,” Austin said. “Sometimes, as a young player or young person, you don’t appreciate the demands that were put on you until you get older. I appreciate all the things he’s done for me, that way.”

Austin, 52, has interviewed for several coaching jobs the past two years, but has yet to be offered a position. Fox believes it’s only a matter of time for his former player.

“I think he’s done a tremendous job, and I’m sure Coach (Jim) Caldwell feels the same,” Fox said. “He’s a good team guy, and he’s a good staff guy. He’s a good person, as well. He’s a heck of a coach. He has a bright young mind that at some point, I’m sure he’ll get an opportunity to be a head coach at some point.”

Austin, as he typically does during the season, deflected any talk about his future.

“We’re just trying to win a game this week,” he said. “I haven’t thought one thing about that. I can’t. I can’t because as you guys know, I’m still here. It’s been the same question that’s been going on for three years, and I’m still here. So, I’m worried about the next game.”

The Lions currently rank 22nd in total defense and 21st in scoring. But advanced metrics shine more favorably on the unit’s performance. Football Outsider’s DVOA metric, which measures the result of every play situationally and by opponent, ranks the Lions as the 11th best defense.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

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