Austin named new USD football coach

Austin named new USD football coach John Austin, newly named head football coach at The University of South Dakota, answers questions during a press conference Wednesday afternoon on the USD campus. by David Lias John Austin, a key contributor on the last University of South Dakota conference championship team and a top assistant to retiring Hayden Fry at the University of Iowa, has been named the new head football coach at The University of South Dakota.

Austin was introduced to the campus and the public by USD Athletic Director Kelly Higgins during a news conference in the Coyote Student Center on the USD campus.

The new coach didn't hesitate to lay out his future game plan for the university's beleaguered football program.

"In Iowa, we had a thing called the Field of Dreams. In South Dakota we have a dome of dreams," he said. "The high school kids in this state grow up knowing that dreams become reality by winning that state championship in the DakotaDome. Those dreams become reality as they go on to the next level at The University of South Dakota."

Austin, 41, has spent the last seven years at the University of Iowa under Fry, including four years as the Hawkeye's defensive line coach. He also served as Iowa's football recruiting coordinator and assistant offensive line coach for three seasons. His appointment is subject to approval by the South Dakota Board of Regents.

"We are excited about the prospects for Coyote football. John Austin was an outstanding performer on the field, helping USD win a conference title in 1978. Later he enjoyed success in South Dakota high school ranks before beginning his upward track at the University of Iowa," said Higgins. "We are pleased he will be the next head coach for the Coyotes. This university is committed to solid values as is John Austin, a man with high character and one who is dedicated to hard work."

"I think it's critical that we realize that we're a regional university. The recruiting process and the student athlete in the state of South Dakota is going to be the backbone," Austin said Wednesday. "We need to get the best kids in the state of South Dakota to come to The University of South Dakota, and we need to convince those people that they'll get a great education, they'll get great support, financial and otherwise, at this institution for them to get their degree and for them to have success."

Austin added that "winning is very, very important. We're not going to cheat, we're not going to break rules. We're going to do things the right way. We'll have high expectations for our coaches; we'll have high expectations for our players, and those players and coaches will meet those expectations or they won't be part of the Coyote football program, because it's all about an attitude and I think that's very, very important."

An enthusiastic Austin hopes to turn the USD football program around quickly.

"This is an exciting opportunity," said Austin, who played under and later coached at Iowa with Dave Triplett, the popular former Coyote head coach (1979-87). "The University of South Dakota has a tradition of excellence on the field and in the classroom. I know we will win here. As I look at the program, I see tremendous opportunity to achieve. There is commitment from university leaders and I know of the outstanding support from alumni and friends of the program."

"We welcome John (Austin), his wife Jill and three daughters, twins Kelsie and Erin, and Samantha to the USD family," said USD President James W. Abbott. "As an alumnus, John understands what it means to be a Coyote. He and his family share our values and our continuing commitment to excellence."

Austin assured an excited crowd of students, faculty and alumni at Wednesday's press conference that he plans to be part of the USD family for years to come.

"I'm here for the long haul; I'm not here for a short year or two," he said. "I'm committing to you, my family, to this community, because we believe there's a great vision at the top, there's great, great support in our administration, in President Abbott and Dr. Higgins, that we will move forward in a positive direction for this university, the state of South Dakota, and for this football program."

Austin fully understands that the recruiting season is under way and that the Coyotes will have to play some catchup. "We will reach out to the high school athletes as soon as we can. Yes, recruiting is at a critical stage but we will remind the athletes about Coyote traditions, past successes and the possibilities of their future," he said. "We will reinvigorate the program."

The former standout Coyote linebacker played under Bernard "Beanie" Cooper and Triplett during his Coyote career in which he started three years and lettered four years. From the get-go, Austin was a contributor to Coyote football. He started his first game in a Coyote uniform as a freshman, replacing all-conference performer Matt Kiger at middle guard after Kiger broke his leg. Later in that season, Austin was moved to starting defensive end. He missed the 1976 season to injury but came back in 1977 to play strong safety for Cooper's Coyotes. In 1978, he started at weakside linebacker, finishing with 42 tackles, including two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. He was named honorable mention all North Central Conference in 1979, also serving as co-captain for head coach Dave Triplett who was in his first year as the Coyote head football coach.

"My heart has always been with the University of South Dakota. This Coyote program is one with a lot of pride and one that has been around since 1889. I am encouraged by the response I have witnessed so far. We will have fun and we will win," said Austin, who received his B. S. degree in business administration in 1980 from USD and earned a master's degree in athletic administration from the University of Iowa in 1992.

At Iowa, Austin's defensive units registered some impressive numbers. In 1997, Iowa was fourth in the nation in scoring defense, seventh in total defense and 11th in rushing defense. The Hawkeyes recorded three shutouts in 1997. In the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes were second in total defense, rushing defense and passing defense and third in scoring defense. His defensive line was led by second team all-American Jared DeVries, who was one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award. DeVries, a First Team All American will likely be named to first-team all-American squads in 1998. Austin has coached three all Big 10 linemen and coached two all-Americans with a school record of 46 sacks. The Hawkeyes have played in the Rose (1990), Holiday, Alamo (27-0 win over Texas Tech in 1996) and Sun Bowls (38-18 win over Washington in 1995) during Austin's tenure at Iowa. Seven players he recruited are playing in the NFL and he coached three including Mike Devlin, the starting center for the Arizona Cardinals. Ross Verba, the starting tackle for the Green Bay Packers, and Scott Davis who has played for the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants were players coached by Austin.

Defensive line play was instrumental as Iowa posted shutouts in two of the final three games in 1996. Iowa ranked third in the Big Ten and 26th in the nation in total defense. The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten in quarterback sacks in 1994 and 1995, and ranked second in the league and 17th in the nation in rushing defense (125.3) in 1995.

"Changing coaches in and itself will not fix what's wrong," Austin said Wednesday, referring to USD's football program. "What will fix what's wrong is everyone working together."

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