Obituary: Bill Austin / Preceded Noll as Steelers coach
Oct. 18, 1928 - May 30, 2013
May 31, 2013 4:00 AM
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Austin in a 1968 file photo.
By Mason Levinson Bloomberg News
Bill Austin, a former National Football League lineman who helped Vince Lombardi develop what became known as the Green Bay Packers' power sweep offense before becoming head coach of the Steelers, preceding Chuck Noll, died Thursday. He was 84.
Mr. Austin died at his home in Las Vegas, the New York Giants said in a statement without disclosing the cause of death.
An offensive lineman on the Giants' 1956 championship team, Mr. Austin played seven seasons for the team, from 1949 to 1950 and 1953 to 1957. He was a Pro Bowl guard in 1954.
He became the Packers' offensive line coach under Lombardi in 1959, keeping the job for six seasons.
The power sweep, in which the guards would pull around the offensive line and block for the running backs, was the signature play of Lombardi's offense, helping the team to five NFL titles in the 1960s, including wins in the first two Super Bowls after the 1966 and 1967 seasons.
Mr. Austin left Green Bay prior to the Super Bowl wins, becoming coach of the Steelers from 1966 to 1968. He led the Steelers to an 11-28 record before being replaced by Mr. Noll, a Hall of Fame coach who held the job for 23 years and won four Super Bowls.
Ed Kiely, who was the Steelers' public relations director during Mr. Austin's tenure, said Mr. Austin had been recommended to the team by Lombardi.
"He was tough. He thought he was going to win everything. He didn't turn out the way we probably hoped or Lombardi thought he would," Mr. Kiely said. "Green Bay was successful. They thought anyone who coached at Green Bay would bring that success with him, but he didn't."
Former Steelers running back Dick Hoak said he had his best year when Mr. Austin was coach in 1968.
"I liked Bill," Mr. Hoak said. "He put in the I-formation and I ran out of that. I made the Pro Bowl and gained almost 900 yards and didn't play the first three games or so."
But, Mr. Hoak said, Mr. Austin tried to be a disciplinarian and ran the players ragged with drills and calisthenics. "It came time to practice, you couldn't. You were too tired," Mr. Hoak said.
"Like all the guys who came from Lombardi's staff, they weren't themselves. They tried to be like Lombardi. None really did that well," said Mr. Hoak, who went on to coach with Mr. Noll.
In a statement, Steelers chairman Dan Rooney described Mr. Austin as "a great contributor to the growth of the National Football League as both a Pro Bowl lineman and coach.
"Austin was an excellent person when he coached for Pittsburgh and our condolences go out to his family. He will be missed," Mr. Rooney said.
Mr. Austin also joined Mr. Lombardi's staff with the Washington Redskins in 1969 and was promoted to head coach when Mr. Lombardi was diagnosed with cancer in 1970. Mr. Austin led them to a 6-8 record in his lone season.
He also had assistant coaching stints with the Giants, from 1979 to 1982; the Los Angeles Rams, the Chicago Bears, the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Jets.
William Lee Austin was born Oct. 18, 1928, in San Pedro, Calif. He grew up in Oregon and played football at Oregon State University before being drafted in the 13th round by the Giants in 1949.
Mr. Austin was married to Goodrun Austin for 56 years and had four daughters, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.