Austin will replace Paul Guenther, who left after four seasons as Bengals defensive coordinator to take the same job in Oakland with new head coach Jon Gruden.
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The 52-year-old Austin was the Detroit defensive coordinator the last four seasons and has had numerous interviews for head coach jobs the last two seasons, including with the Lions this month, a job that is still unfilled.
The Lions were 27th in total defense this season. They were 15th in 2016 when they made the playoffs. In his first season as Detroit defensive coordinator, the Lions finished second in run defense.
Prior to Detroit, Austin was the defensive backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens from 2011-13. He also was a secondary coach in Arizona (2007-09) and Seattle (2003-2006), and he was the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida in 2010.
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Austin will be the first of a number of new hires for the Bengals, who also are looking to fill vacancies created by the departures of Paul Alexander (offensive line) and James Urban (wide receivers).
Austin also coached in the college ranks at Michigan, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Penn State.
If the Bengals finalize a deal with Austin, he would become the fifth defensive coordinator under Marvin Lewis, following Leslie Frazier, Chuck Bresnahan, Mike Zimmer and Guenther.