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NOT A PERFECT FRIENDSHIP
Tex Maule
October 10, 1966
Tired of sliding down the NFL's cellar door, Art and Dan Rooney have hired a Pittsburgh coach who isn't a buddy-chum-pal. The result is a team as modern as the town's skyscrapers
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October 10, 1966

Not A Perfect Friendship

Tired of sliding down the NFL's cellar door, Art and Dan Rooney have hired a Pittsburgh coach who isn't a buddy-chum-pal. The result is a team as modern as the town's skyscrapers

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Art agreed, and finally they settled on Bill Austin, an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Rams who had worked with Vince Lombardi as a player and assistant coach for 10 years before that. Dan and Art sent for Austin, who flew in from the Coast for an interview.

"We laid it on the line," Art said. "We told him about the team and about the boos we were getting from the fans. I told him that I thought maybe our personnel was better than 2 and 12, but that he would have to figure that out for himself. And I told him that if we hired him he would have a free hand. All of our coaches have had."

Austin listened, asked a few questions and made one request.

"I have another job I am thinking about," he said. "Please let me know as soon as possible if you want me."

The two Rooneys went from the meeting in Austin's hotel room back to the Steeler offices, and Art Rooney called an old friend—Lombardi.

"I knew Vince would level with me," he said. "He always has. I have never heard from any man a better recommendation than the one he gave Bill Austin. And I mean, it didn't sound like he was saying what he did because he liked Austin. It was kind of impersonal, but it couldn't have been better. That's when we decided on Austin."

Austin had checked out of his hotel and a page at the airport failed to find him, so the Rooneys had to wait until he reached Los Angeles to tell him the job was his. He flew right back to Pittsburgh.

Austin is a compact, strong man, with cold blue eyes, thinning blond hair and a no-nonsense air. He had been approached by the St. Louis Cardinals several years before when they were looking for a coach—Wally Lemm got that job—but Lombardi told both Austin and the Cardinals that Bill was not yet ready for a head coaching job. It is typical of Austin that he did not resent Vince's candor.

" Lombardi was right," Austin says. "I wasn't ready, technically or psychologically. I am ready now, though."

Austin was raised in Oregon and played college football at Oregon State. He was drafted by the New York Giants in 1949, where he played under Lombardi, then Jim Lee Howell's offensive line coach. Howell called Austin the best offensive guard in the league, and Lombardi agreed. When Vince took over as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Austin was coaching the line for Wichita State. Lombardi hired him as offensive line coach and he was first-rate.

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