Butler feels ‘ready and eager’ to take job
By Philip Cmor
After being on the line for more than 15 minutes fielding questions about his promotion to Penn State’s defensive coordinator on Thursday, John Butler asked how many media members were on the conference call with him.
When he was told there were only three more left out of a group of nearly 20, Butler let out a loud “Whoo-wee.”
For anyone else, it might have seemed out of place. But not Butler, who made an impression for being animated on the sidelines as the Nittany Lions’ secondary coach in 2012 and made a point a couple of times that he intends to bring that same energy and enthusiasm to his new role.
“You’ve got to be who you are. If I showed up to practice one day and had my hands folded and was very quiet, the kids would look at me and say, ‘Who’s this clown?’ They can see through that,” Butler said. “Sometimes people see my demeanor on the sidelines and they may misunderstand that I’m incredibly competitive. I think I have the ability in [game-changing] situations that, where it might appear I’ve lost my mind, I haven’t.”
Bill O’Brien’s choice to take over for Ted Roof – who it was announced Wednesday was returning to his alma mater, Georgia Tech – over more experienced defensive coaches on the staff like Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, Butler said he felt he was ready and was eager to take over a position he felt he’d spent most of the last two decades working towards.
“Everything has prepared me for this step. Every job you take and every task you take on in coaching, you’re basically getting yourself ready for the next opportunity,” Butler said. “This is obviously a tremendous honor that Billy has given me.
“I’m prepared for this. I put 20 years of coaching into being ready for this and, when the opportunity comes, one thing about me is I’m never going to shy away from an opportunity. When Coach O’Brien said, ‘I’d like to name you as defensive coordinator,’ I said, ‘Outstanding.'”
A product of LaSalle College High School in Philadelphia, Butler became the secondary coach at Catholic University one year after graduating from that school and then became defensive coordinator there a year later. He came to Penn State following stints at Texas, Midwestern State, Texas State, Harvard, Minnesota and South Carolina; he even had a brief stop with the NFL’s Houston Texans.
“The thing that stood out about John was his intensity, competitiveness, work ethic and ability to get the most out of his players,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, who had Butler on his staff working with the linebackers and special teams from 2003-06. “You knew John was going places. He was very loyal to Harvard, but there was no question in my mind that he would be at the top level of football at some point in his career.”
Penn State held half of its opponents to 17 points or fewer in 2012, finishing first nationally in red zone defense, 16th in scoring defense and 28th in pass efficiency defense. Butler said to expect a continuation of that and the system that Roof used, with different fronts and coverages and occasional blitzes to keep opposing offenses guessing.
“We’re going to be multiple, we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to be simple enough that our players are going to play really fast – it doesn’t really matter what I know, what Ron knows or what Larry knows, it comes down to what our players know and how fast they can play,” Butler said. “One of the biggest things we’re going to try to do is just create problems for the offense and be a difficult defense to prepare for.”
This was the second time Butler worked on a staff where Roof was defensive coordinator; they both were at Minnesota in 2008.
“There’s no doubt he will do a great job,” Roof told the Associated Press. “He’s been ready for that a long time.”
Penn State loses four of its top five tacklers to graduation, but six starters return on defense, including middle linebacker Glenn Carson, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and honorable mention all-Big Ten picks Deion Barnes and Adrian Amos.
“We feel we have a talented enough group as long as we stay healthy and keep moving this thing forward,” Butler said.
Just as important might be keeping Johnson and Vanderlinden around to handle the defensive line and linebackers, respectively. Butler said he had a great relationship with the two senior members of the Lion coaching staff and anticipated them being part of the staff this fall.
“I sure hope so,” Butler said. “I can’t look into a crystal ball, but I made it very clear to them that I hope that they continue in their roles and continue to be great leaders to our defensive players. I’m moving forward with them in the belief that they’re going to follow 100 percent the lead of Coach O’Brien.”
Butler said he’ll continue to work with the secondary to an extent – either the corners or the safeties – but it will be O’Brien’s decision about where to fill Roof’s coaching vacancy.
“I’m going to maintain a coaching role. I’m not going to be a walk-around coordinator,” Butler said.