Who called the defensive plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers this past season? That seems to be the popular question these last several days and it was one that was asked of team president Art Rooney II Friday morning during his interview on 93.7 The Fan.
“Well, Keith Butler is obviously our defensive coordinator and Coach Tomlin as the head coach, like any head coach, has the right to be involved on both sides of the ball, which he is,” Rooney said. “And you know, Coach Tomlin came up as a defensive coach and I think he and Coach Butler work closely together on that. And the truth of matter is, even though it wasn’t everything we would have hoped for, statistically, we were one of the better defenses in the league this year.”
Rooney was immediately asked if he knows who made the majority of the defensive calls during games this past season.
“You know, they work together on it,” Rooney said. “So, I don’t know that I can give you a percentage of who called what. Coach Butler makes most of the calls, but certainly Mike is right there beside him the whole game.”
Wasn’t this what we somewhat already knew? Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler carries the main play call sheet on the sidelines during games and it’s not uncommon to see him in close proximity of head coach Mike Tomlin at times when the defense is on the field. Does Tomlin sometimes make some calls from his own smaller play sheet that he carries, or perhaps override something Butler attempted to call? That’s obviously very possible and likely as well. To what degree that happens, nobody really knows except for both of them.
So, why all of this talk now about who is calling what when it comes to the Steelers defense? I suppose a good deal of this stems from what former Steelers linebacker James Harrison said this past week on ‘Undisputed’ about how Tomlin has his hands in a lot of what goes on defensively and that while Butler has the defensive coordinator title, it pretty much ends there for him.
“I felt the Dick LeBeau situation was a move to try and get him out of there so Tomlin could put more of his hand into it,” Harrison said. “Like I said, Coach Butler, he’s a great coach, but I dont feel like, at least from when I was there, he didn’t get the chance to d-coordinate and actually do the job.”
Moving forward into the offseason I suppose there’s going to be a lot more talk about who really is to blame for the defensive woes the Steelers have had the last two seasons. Is Butler merely a linebacker coach who has a defensive coordinator title and is thus just a mouthpiece calling in plays that Tomlin calls during games? Does Butler call the majority of plays like Rooney suggested he does? Stay tuned.
If we’re lucky, the next time Butler will speak to the media will be during the 2019 NFL Draft. In the meantime, Tomlin will likely next meet the media during the annual league meeting in late March. When Tomlin does speak at those meetings, I speculate he’ll be pressed to talk even more about how big of role he plays during games when it comes to the play calling and asked point-blank if he’s essentially the team’s defensive coordinator.