Caldwell said there has also been interest in Austin from other teams, but he did not name them.
The 50-year-old Austin has been a hot head-coaching candidate for the past two offseasons. Last year he interviewed in Chicago and Atlanta, but did not land either one of those jobs after putting together the league’s top run defense and No. 2 overall defense in 2014.
His defense took a step back in 2015, in part due to the free-agency departures of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley along with the loss of linebacker DeAndre Levy for all but one half of one game this season. After struggling for the first half of the 2015 season, Austin’s defense ended up No. 18 in the NFL and sacked quarterbacks on 8 percent of opposing dropbacks.
“He’s been exceptional,” Caldwell said. “He’ll be an exceptional head coach. He’s a motivator. He’s very, very good strategically, technically in terms of football. He knows football inside and out and it’s not like he hasn’t been around. He’s been around a little bit. Teryl’s not a 34-year-old guy taking over a head-coaching position.
“So I think that bodes well for him just in terms of handling some of the nuances that are dealing with this particular league. So he’ll be tremendous and I think you’ll see that when he gets the opportunity and I fully expect he’ll get the opportunity somewhere here down the line.”
Caldwell knows Austin well. He has worked with him at Penn State and Wake Forest in college as well as in Baltimore and Detroit in the NFL.
Austin’s players, in particular, have an affinity for him both strategically and in his ability to motivate. Cornerback Josh Wilson, who is on his fifth team, said Austin is able to have a message resonate with younger players and older players at the same time.
“He understands the game,” Wilson said. “You feel like you have a D-coordinator who is knowledgeable to not only what is going on right now in his playbook, the whole schematic game. What’s the chess game?
“A lot of places I’ve been, I’ve had D-coordinators who are playing checkers when everybody else is playing chess. You know what I mean? This guy understands the chess game and it works.”
Defensive end Darryl Tapp, who is on his fourth team, said he believes Austin can be a head coach. When asked if he would be a good head coach, he paused for a second and then said: “Yeah.”
“He’s a hot target, man. He’s a hot target,” Tapp said. “I’ve known TA my whole career. He was on the Seattle staff when I first got drafted there. We were neighbors back in Seattle. He has so much ability and he has the same kind of qualities as Coach Caldwell.
“He has an individual relationship with all of us. He knows how to connect on so many different levels other than just football. I would love to have him [in Detroit] but opportunity presents itself and it’s the right one, he may make that move for him and his family.”
Caldwell wouldn’t say who would replace Austin as defensive coordinator if he gets a head-coaching job. Linebackers coach Bill Sheridan and safeties coach Alan Williams both have experience as defensive coordinators.