MOBILE, Ala. — The agent for former Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said the Lions conducted a sham interview with his client only to satisfy the NFL’s Rooney Rule.
Austin, Lions defensive coordinator in 2014-17, was one of two in-house candidates and two minorities who interviewed for the head coaching job after Jim Caldwell was fired following the 2017 season. At the time, the Rooney Rule required NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching vacancies.
Caldwell went 36-28 in four seasons with the Lions. He led the organization to two playoff appearances, including an 11-5 record in 2014 — the franchise’s best mark since 1991 — but was let go two years after the Lions fired general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand at midseason.
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Mayhew’s replacement, Bob Quinn, hired his former colleague with the New England Patriots, Matt Patricia, as coach.
The Lions have gone 17-46-2 since Caldwell’s dismissal and have had four straight losing seasons.
“Bob Quinn knew he was hiring Matt Patricia and used Teryl to comply with the Rooney Rule,” Austin’s agent, Eric Metz, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “Didn’t work out well for the Lions. Never should’ve fired Jim Caldwell.”
Quinn did not respond to a voice message left Thursday morning and the Lions declined comment.
The Rooney Rule, instituted in 2003, requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions. The rule has been tweaked and expanded several times in the past two decades and now requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates, with at least one of those interviews in-person.
Along with Austin, the Lions interviewed then-Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, then-Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, then-Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel and then-Green Bay Packers associate head coach Winston Moss for the head coaching position before hiring Patricia.
All six candidates went through a similar interviews with Quinn and Lions president Rod Wood asked the same series of questions.
Then-Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks also declined an interview request with the Lions during that hiring cycle.
Austin, Moss and Wilks are Black. Wilks, who was hired as Cardinals head that winter — and fired after one season — said in December 2018 that he did not want to interview with the Lions because he believed Patricia was a lock to get the job.
Patricia was widely considered the favorite for the job entering the search.
“They didn’t tell me at all, but it was one of those things that you know just from history, the New England connection and whatnot,” Wilks said. “So I really wasn’t in the process of just trying to take an interview, so I figured they were going that route and once again, I think they got a great guy in Matt Patricia.”
In 2003, then-Lions president Matt Millen was fined $200,000 for circumventing the Rooney Rule. Millen hired Steve Mariucci as head coach after firing Marty Mornhinweg, when he was turned down by several minority candidates for interviews who believed they had no legitimate chance at the job.
The Lions have had a better track record for minority hiring in recent years and were honored last fall by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which serves as a watchdog for minority hiring. They currently employ a Black general manager, assistant general manager and defensive coordinator, and had a Black offensive coordinator until Anthony Lynn was fired after the season.
The NFL currently has three minority head coaches, the Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Tomlin, the Washington Commanders’ Ron Rivera and the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh, and six Black GMs, including the Lions’ Brad Holmes.
Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three of its teams alleging discrimination in hiring practices this week.
The Lions are not a party to the suit, but were named in Flores’ court filing for their handling of Caldwell’s dismissal.
Austin had head-coaching interviews with 10 different teams during his time in Detroit He said in 2016 he felt like two of those interviews were done only to satisfy the Rooney Rule.
After leaving the Lions, Austin spent one season as Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator and the past three as a defensive assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is a candidate for the vacant Steelers defensive coordinator job.
In 2018, Austin withdrew his name from consideration with the Lions to take the Bengals defensive coordinator job, saying at the time he knew he was a long shot to replace Caldwell.
“I interviewed in Detroit, but it probably wasn’t going to happen because of what happened to us as a staff,” he said at the time.