There are some good coordinators who are just not good head coaches. There are some position coaches who never develop the global skills to excel as coordinators. And yet still, there are even head coaches who are better at that task than they are at more the specific responsibilities of a coordinator or position coach.
I say this as a preface to a brief discussion about Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who has been in that post for the past four seasons, but spent over a decade on the coaching staff working with the linebackers prior to that, from 2003 to 2014.
With it being reported that the Steelers are planning to forego hiring a position coach to replace outside linebackers coach Joey Porter and instead handing off those responsibilities to Butler, let us remind ourselves that he was good at that job.
He worked with and developed James Harrison, after all, in addition to LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds, and others. He also worked with Porter himself and Clark Haggans on the edge. Not to mention the inside linebackers, most prominently James Farrior, Larry Foote, and Lawrence Timmons. Those three were there so long that he didn’t really have to develop others.
Now, granted, he was already the defensive coordinator by the time the likes of Ryan Shazier and T.J. Watt were drafted or developed, having only been Shazier’s position coach for his rookie injury-riddled rookie season, so Jerry Olsavsky and Porter, respectively, would have been their position coaches. He also didn’t manage to do much with Jarvis Jones as a first-round pick at outside linebacker.
But by and large, he was a very successful linebackers coach, a position that he played in the NFL for over a decade, and there is no reason to think that he will have lost the ability to do that at a sufficient level over the past four years.
Coaching linebackers should be like riding a bike for him. Even assuming that this is a move that is entirely an addition to his previous responsibilities and not an alteration with further encroachments into the defensive scheme by Mike Tomlin, it shouldn’t be something that causes confusion on the field.
The Steelers need somebody to keep Watt ascending, and somebody who can finally get Bud Dupree going. They need to see what they have in the young players like Keion Adams and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi. They didn’t really think they were getting enough of that from Porter—otherwise he would still be here.
And the fact of the matter is that coaching outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme is different from what it once was. They are more defensive linemen than linebackers today, which is why they expect Karl Dunbar to be more involved. If the job of outside linebackers coach is being minimized, it won’t be that much of an additional burden.