Austin, Cooter interview for Lions’ head coaching job

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Teryl Austin

Allen Park — The Detroit Lions kicked off the search to find Jim Caldwell’s replacement on Tuesday, interviewing the team’s two coordinators, Teryl Austin and Jim Bob Cooter. 

Austin, 52, has been included in the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s list of recommended candidates the past three years and has interviewed for multiple openings each offseason, but has yet to land the elusive opportunity.

Those who have worked with Austin have touted his credentials.

"I think obviously that he deserves an opportunity,” Caldwell said in January. “And when you look at his work, what he’s been able to do over the years, look at where he’s worked, who he’s worked for, he’s well prepared for the task. He’ll do a tremendous job. And I don’t think there’s any question about that. I’m certainly hoping that he gets that opportunity.”

Former Chicago Bears coach John Fox, who coached Austin in college, echoed those sentiments during a conference call earlier this year.

Lions offensive coordinator Jim Cooter interviewed for the vacant head coaching position on Tuesday.

“He’s a good team guy, and he’s a good staff guy,” Fox said. “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.”

A three-year starter at the University of Pittsburgh, Austin had a brief stint in the defunct World League before turning to coaching. He got his start as a graduate assistant at Penn State and served as a position coach at three other schools before making the jump the NFL.

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Following a one-year dip back into the collegiate ranks, working as Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Florida in 2010, Austin coached the Baltimore Ravens secondary for three years, prior to joining Caldwell’s staff in Detroit in 2014.

Austin thrived in his first season with the Lions, orchestrating one of the best unit’s in franchise history. The team finished No. 2 in total defense, No. 2 in scoring and No. 1 against the run and were top-10 on third down and generating takeaways.

He hasn’t been able to replicate that success the past three years, in part because the Lions struggled to replace All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who signed with Miami as a free agent in 2015, and star linebacker DeAndre Levy, who never recovered from a string of injuries that same offseason.

Austin has typically downplayed his future with the local media, preferring to shift the focus to the job he had, running Detroit's defense.

“I don’t worry about that because I can’t control that,” Austin said prior to team's season finale last week. “All I control is how do we win games? Do we give ourselves a chance to win games? Do we give ourselves a chance to get into the playoffs? And, obviously, we didn’t do that. That’s really all I can control and that’s all I worry about.”

Cooter, 33, has long been viewed as a future head coach by those who have worked with him, but also has a shorter resume than most candidates. This is his first known interview for a head position. 

A walk-on at the University of Tennessee, Cooter began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the school under Phillip Fulmer. When that coaching staff was swept out in 2008, Fulmer helped Cooter get hired by Caldwell in Indianapolis. 

Cooter also had stops in Kansas City and Denver, where he reconnected with quarterback Peyton Manning, before joining Detroit as a quarterbacks coach as part of Caldwell’s initial staff.  Cooter was promoted to offensive coordinator in the middle of the 2015 season, after Joe Lombardi was fired. 

In the time since Cooter’s promotion, quarterback Matthew Stafford’s performance has significantly improved, with a sharp increase in completion percentage and passer rating. On Monday, after Caldwell was dismissed, Stafford made a case for the Lions to keep Cooter on as an offensive coordinator. 

The Lions are expected to conduct four more interviews this week. It has been reported the team will meet with Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel on Wednesday and Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Green Bay linebackers coach Winston Moss on Thursday. Quinn is also expected to sit down with New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia this weekend, while the Patriots are on a bye.