This past offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers waved goodbye to a longtime fixture of the ball club’s defense in coordinator Dick LeBeau. The “father” of the zone-blitz, his intricate defensive schemes kept offensive coordinators up at night each and every fall, and now his duties have been turned over to longtime assistant, Keith Butler.
“It’s the thrill of a lifetime for me,” Butler said, according to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com. “This is a dream come true for me, and it would be for a lot of people. I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
A hot name amongst wish lists leaguewide for previous defensive coordinator jobs, Butler stayed true to his Pittsburgh roots, and his mentor in LeBeau. Upon being anointed the new defensive boss of the team, Butler did nothing but rain praise on LeBeau, as a person and what an opportunity it was being under his tutelage.
Although not a Hall of Fame-caliber player like LeBeau was in his heyday with his 62 career interceptions, Butler was still a solid player for the Seattle Seahawks through the late 70s and mid 80s. A 1977 All-American linebacker during his playing days at Memphis, Butler started 132 out of 146 games during his NFL career and his 813 career tackles still ranks second on the franchise’s all-time list, so Bobby Wagner has his work cut out for him.
Butler broke into the NFL coaching ranks when he joined Butch Davis‘ staff during his tenure with the Cleveland Browns from 1999 until 2002. Then in 2003, he was brought on as linebackers coach under former defensive coordinator, Tim Lewis, before LeBeau’s second stint in 2004. In Pittsburgh he has remained ever since, despite being courted by many franchises over that time, and a couple in particular who stand out.
In 2012 and 2014, respectively, Butler was rumored to be the defensive coordinator of choice for the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans. The Colts had just hired former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as their head coach, who obviously had some intel on Butler from the rivalry with Pittsburgh. Also of importance is the fact Pagano had already hired on former Steelers offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, to the same position.
In 2014, the Titans had just hired head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the same one who won a Super Bowl calling the offensive plays for Pittsburgh in 2005, so the dots can be connected. However, despite all the smokescreens, Butler stayed in the Steel City, and a major factor in that was the obvious, the six Lombardi’s.
“It’s more important to me to win Super Bowls, and I think this organization gives us the best chance to win Super Bowls,” he said, according to Labriola. “The Rooneys have always been solid, they’ve always been stay-the-course people. They never do anything based on a knee-jerk reaction, and I just admired the stability of the organization and the continuity of the organization.”
As a former player, especially one a lot younger than that of LeBeau, Butler appeals to his players, especially Pro Bowl inside linebacker, Lawrence Timmons.
“As a coach you can really relate to him having been a player,” said Timmons, according to Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “Plus, he knows what I think since he has been here. I think that’s a big cheat sheet for him.”
Though he will stay true to his 3-4 roots, like any other coordinator, he will want to put his own stamp on the defense, so while the base will remain the same, more sub-package looks are likely in order. And, according to Timmons, a return of “Blitzburgh.”
“I know we’re going to be blitzing,” he said, according to Varley. “So look forward to that.”