Well they did play professional football in Pittsburgh before The Emperor’s arrival, and the man who preceded him was Bill Austin who passed away Thursday evening at his home in Las Vegas, reports Allan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
From Nixon to Austin
History will note that Bill Austin was the last Pittsburgh Steelers head coach hired by franchise founder Art Rooney Sr. And even in that respect, Austin represented something of a transition.
“The Chief” Art Sr., was first an exceptional human being, second an outstanding citizen and ambassador for the city of Pittsburgh, third a phenomenal athlete, and fourth a ace horse race odds maker.
- He was not, however, a good football man.
- In short, Rooney believed in hiring someone to do a job and then standing behind them – the only problem was “The Chief” never hired the right people.
Two weeks prior to the Steelers 1965 season Parker informed Dan he was trading defensive end Ben McGee (who went on to be a Pro Bowler). Dan told him they’d discuss it in the morning. Parker balked, insisting he was the coach. Dan put his foot down. Parker offered to resign.
- Dan called his bluff.
- They were right. Nixon won two games and was gone.
In his self titled autobiography Dan Rooney explained that he began an exhaustive search, that included Bill Austin, then a coach for the Los Angles Rams. Austin interviewed well, Rooney admits.
But then Art Sr. called Vince Lombardi, who had mentored Austin, and Lombardi give Austin a glowing recommendation.
That was enough for The Chief. Dan protested, insisting that the selection process must move forward, but The Chief had spoken, and Austin took the reigns of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Austin in Pittsburgh
In his book From Black to Gold author Tim Gleason rated Pittsburgh Steelers head coaches not named “Noll,” “Cowher,” or “Tomlin.”
Austin came in at #6 – out of seven by Gleason’s rendering. As Gleason explains “Bill Austin was Walt Kiesling reincarnated, without Kiesling’s good qualities.
Bill Austin you see, was a true disciple of Vince Lombardi. In fact, he did all he could to emulate Lombardi. But, as Gleason quote Steelers legend Dick Hoak, “’His problem was that he tried to be someone that he wasn’t.’”
Dan Rooney recounts how Andy Russell told him that former Packers on Austin’s Steeler squads remember Austin quoting Lombardi speeches verbatim. Alas, channeling his inner Lombardi didn’t work for Austin.
- It also had disastrous effects on the Steelers.
- Linebacker Bill Saul suffering a career-ending knee injury
- Defensive end Ken Koratus spraining an ankle that slowed him for the entire season
- Running back Jim Butler injuring a knee that cost him most of a season
- Defensive back Paul Martha cracking his helmet in two and getting a concussion in the process
The One Thing Austin Did Right….
Bill Austin started out the 1968 0-6. Then he did something that many at the time would categorize as a mistake.
- He coached the Steelers to two victories and forced a tie in the third.
- Yes, it was Austin cost the Steelers a shot at O.J. Simpson. Bill Austin, it seems, wasn't even smart enough to play for draft position....
The rest is history.
Thanks Bill. May you rest in peace.