Mr. Austin spent 11 years with Lombardi as a player and assistant coach before taking over the top job with the Redskins in 1970. The previous season, when Mr. Austin served as Lombardi’s offensive coordinator, the Redskins compiled a 7-5-2 record — the team’s first winning record in 14 years.
Lombardi had won three National Football League championships and two Super Bowls with the Green Bay Packers, but in Washington, the coaching legend never had a chance to improve on his promising start.
Stricken with colon cancer, Lombardi died Sept. 3, 1970, at age 57. Before his death, however, he anointed Mr. Austin his heir apparent with the Redskins. Mr. Austin had a mediocre record of 11-28-3 during three seasons as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach from 1966 to 1968, but he had a long history as Lombardi’s protege.
After playing under Lombardi with the New York Giants for four years, Mr. Austin was the first assistant hired when Lombardi took the head coaching job in Green Bay in 1959.
As the Packers’ offensive line coach for six years, Mr. Austin was a principal architect of the team’s powerful running attack, which featured fullback Jim Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung. The linemen Mr. Austin coached included guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston and two Hall of Famers, tackle Forrest Gregg and center Jim Ringo.
Mr. Austin was credited with helping develop the Packers’ signature play, the power sweep, in which Kramer and Thurston pulled out of the line to lead the ballcarrier to daylight downfield.
“One thing we must recognize,” Mr. Austin told The Washington Post in 1970. “There was only one Vince Lombardi. I can’t hope to be him.” He did say that he could shout as loudly as Lombardi and added, “Naturally, some of his ideals, philosophy, and even mannerisms have rubbed off on me.”
Like his mentor, Mr. Austin was a strict disciplinarian who led his players through grueling two-a-day drills in training camp, each lasting more than two hours. Some players said they were so worn out by the practices that they couldn’t play their best in games.
In 1970, Mr. Austin’s sole season as the Redskins’ head coach, quarterback Sonny Jurgensen threw 23 touchdown passes, and running back Larry Brown rushed for 1,125 yards to become the first Redskin to gain more than 1,000 yards on the ground.
But the defense was porous, and the Redskins finished the season with a record of 6-8.
“The Redskins seem to have lost their spirit,” Washington Post sports columnist Bob Addie wrote in 1970. “It has been a traumatic year starting with the death in September of Vince Lombardi. It was too much to ask that Bill Austin assemble the stunned elements and mold them into a winning ballclub.”