There was a bit of bloodletting out of Pittsburgh on Thursday, as the Steelers announced that they would be allowing the contracts of three of their coaches to expire, and an additional coach would be retiring. Gone are offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, and defensive backs coach Tom Bradley, with longtime tight ends coach James Daniel opting to move on. Daniel had been with the organization since 2004.
One name that will not be departing, according to reports, is defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who has been with the team since 2004, and has held his current role since 2015. It has been reported that the 64-year old will operate on a year-to-year basis from this point forward.
Butler’s unit ranked third in scoring this past season, and fifth last year. They ranked just 16th in 2018, however. In his three years prior to that, in reverse order, they ranked seventh, 10th, and 11th. Of course, these numbers need context. The defense actually gave up fewer points in 2019 and yet ranked slightly worse.
While fans have certainly had their—let’s say mixed—opinions about Butler and his performance, oftentimes the most important opinion for an organization is that of the players toward their coach, and Butler has always seemed to have their support, including Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has only been with the team for about 20 months.
“I think Coach Butz is a great coach”, he told reporters on Thursday, the same day it was reported that Butler would likely be retained. “He has a lot of experience in the system. He’s been here for a long time. Coach T puts a lot of trust and faith in him. They have a great defense. I have the utmost faith in his game plan and his overall execution of calling the plays and getting them to us”.
Multiple different reporters have intimated that head coach Mike Tomlin called all of the defensive plays for the Steelers on Sunday in the postseason loss, and that he had been calling at least a large number of the plays for at least the majority of this season, if not the past two seasons, but that’s frankly rather difficult to actually ascertain, and such reports in the past have been frequently vague and unsourced.
One report indicated that the security of Butler’s job may be tied to the eagerness with which Tomlin intends to subsume control of the gameday responsibilities of running the defense—meaning that the more control Tomlin takes over the defense, the less he will care about who is defensive coordinator.