Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis seemed to have an eye on the future before the 2017 season was even over. He said he told Teryl Austin to "stay in touch" prior to the Bengals' game against the Detroit Lions on Christmas Eve.
Even though Lewis and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther had expiring contracts, Lewis seemed to be keeping an eye on Austin just in case. Now, Austin will take over Guenther's duties as the Bengals' defensive coordinator.
Austin ran a 4-3 base scheme in Detroit that had 32 takeaways last season, ranking third in the NFL. He promised to bring an aggressive style of play to Cincinnati.
"We are going to try and play on their side of the line of scrimmage. We're going to play without fear," Austin said. "We're going to play really physical and strong. I guess that's what I mean by aggressive. We aren't going to sit back and let somebody dictate what we do. That's what I mean by aggressive. Aggressive is not fighting and talking and all that other stuff -- it's how you play the game. That's what I want the people to see."
Though the Bengals were able to force 28 turnovers in 2015, that production tailed off to just 14 in 2017. Austin said the Lions were so good at taking the ball away because he made it a point of emphasis.
"It's like anything else in coaching: You get what you emphasize," Austin said. "I know for a few years, our first year, we were really good. Then, we kind of fell back a year. We talked about it and tried to emphasize [takeaways]. This past offseason, I really dove into making sure we emphasized it more. We ran more takeaway drills, and we kept that going throughout the entire year. I think it paid off, because what our guys saw was tangible results early, and they kept building off of that. And that's why I think we were able to get as many turnovers as we did this past year."
Though Austin will put his own touches on the defense, a sweeping change to a 3-4 style of defense doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon. Lewis said he didn't want the Bengals' players to have to "relearn the wheel."
"I thought it was important to have somebody that would stay within in our structure because of the personnel we have returning and that we didn't have to make a drastic change," Lewis said. "There are things that Teryl did the last few seasons in Detroit that are very compatible with what we do. He can shape [our defense] now with his hands, and with the rest of the coaches. Obviously when you take over a similar situation, as I did years ago from when I left Pittsburgh, you inherit some coaches, schemes and players. You have to adjust the coach a little bit, more so that the players don't have to take too much of a sideways step, and we can keep pushing forward with their knowledge."
Austin and Lewis conceded that his stay in Cincinnati wouldn't be for long if everything worked out. Several of Lewis' former coordinators and assistants, including Hue Jackson, Mike Zimmer, Jay Gruden and Vance Joseph, have gone on to become head coaches. Both hope the same thing for Austin, who has interviewed for several head-coaching positions over the years.
"Obviously the big thing was his opportunity to possibly to become a head coach in the NFL," Lewis said. "I was waiting for that to break, and I know that will occur in his future, and that's the exciting thing. Hopefully we have great success immediately and he gets that opportunity.”
Said Austin: "The best selling point is that you have a chance to work with a quality person and a quality team. That's the biggest selling point. At some point, you have to put all that other stuff [aside] -- that other stuff will take care of itself. You can't control that, so when you have an opportunity to work with good people, good players, good teams, you have to take that chance. That's what I was looking for more than, 'Hey, I have a chance to work with Marvin and possibly become a head coach.' That's not what I'm looking for. What I'm looking for is an opportunity to coach some men, get better, work with a good group of guys, and try to make them successful."