Austin heel turn

Was the Steve Austin heel turn at Wrestlemania 17 the game plan far in advance?  Everything about his return seemed to indicate a recovery from career-threatening injury, gaining revenge against HHH, and regaining the WWF Title.  We got all that to some degree, but the heel turn still seems odd, even 11 years later.  With Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, and HHH as strong heel counterparts (not to mention The Rock leaving to shoot Scorpion King), what was the point of the Austin turn that seemed so out of character?  It seemed that one more run on top as babyface champion could have made guys like Angle, Benoit, and a heel-turned Jericho.  At the very least, you've got the proven top babyface and box office draw to oppose the newly-acquired WCW and work fresh programs with guys like Booker T. and DDP.  The whole Austin turn just seemed so convoluted at the time and has left me wondering: how far back was that The Plan for Wrestlemania?

A long ways back.  There had been rumblings of pulling the trigger on it as early as Royal Rumble, and it was basically the worst-kept secret in wrestling for months beforehand.  I'd estimate that by mid-late 2000, with the HHH feud not exactly setting the box office on fire, they were getting ready to do the deed.  You'd think that the Goldberg turn in 2000 would have taught them a valuable lesson, but apparently not.