ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Jim Caldwell says he saw it within three months of meeting Teryl Austin. There was something different there, something special.
The players Austin now coaches say his ability to be both calm and passionate helps them, along with how he relates to people in the room regardless of age or background. His message gets through. Players want to play for him. Players believe in him.
As Austin goes out for another round of offseason head-coaching interviews trying to land his first NFL head coaching gig, those qualities are important. Caldwell believes Austin should be a head coach – soon – and Caldwell confirmed Austin is interviewing with Cleveland for its vacancy. ESPN Insider's Josina Anderson reported Austin will also interview in Miami, and Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reported Austin will interview in Philadelphia.
So like last season, when Austin interviewed in Atlanta and Chicago, there are potentially options there to hire him away.
But Caldwell also likely knows this: If the Detroit Lions retain their head coach for a third season and he comes back without Austin, it would be a major loss for the franchise and one that would be difficult to replace.
While the 18-14 record over season belongs to Caldwell, he doesn’t manage that if not for the defense Austin ran.
Detroit’s strength during its playoff season in 2014 was built on Austin’s aggressive scheme and a strong defense that was a top-5 unit in the NFL. When the Lions had a better second half of the season in 2015, the offense was improved but the defense once again turned into a top-10 unit in almost every major statistical category, including run defense, pass defense and points allowed.
That was Austin being able to adapt and understand changes he needed to make. And he did.
“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 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 down the line.”
The 50-year-old Austin has shown his on-field acumen, both in his 2014 unit and what he was able to construct in the second half of the 2015 season. But he’s also been impressive off the field as well. He has done well in his media sessions, showing restraint, honesty and the ability to handle difficult questions professionally and in a forthright manner.
And as a head coach, where you are speaking publicly almost daily, that’s an important requirement to show. He’s also able to carry a message into a meeting room, where he connects with players regardless of age or background.
As a professional coach, that’s critical.
“You’ve got to be able to speak to young guys and old men in the same speech and reach them both,” cornerback Josh Wilson said. “TA’s definitely able to reach that. You got to call plays and put it all together, most coaches can do that. But not a lot of coaches can hit that wide spectrum of players and be able to speak to them.”
Of course, predicting whether or not a good coordinator will be a good head coach can sometimes be difficult. Nothing is guaranteed when making that jump, especially in football since the roster and the front office have so much to do with it.
But with Austin, the chances are good he can have success.
“There’s always potential,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “I think he has the potential and the pedigree to do well.”
He’s shown that in Detroit and for all the reasons he could become a good head coach -- those are the same reasons he would be a big loss if the Lions lost him.