There’s an obvious drive to start getting reflective when you retire, because it marks the end of one of the most significant chapters in your life possible. In many instances, people are walking away from something they gave most of their lives to, like former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who spent more than half a century in the game of football.
Butler, 66, just recently announced his retirement, and he spoke to 93.7 The Fan yesterday on the Poni and Mueller Show. Aditi Kinkhabwala helped guest host the segment, and one of the things that she asked him was which player was the greatest joy to coach (and who was the biggest pain in the butt).
He declined to answer the latter question, but he gave a thoughtful answer about the general joy of the coaching profession. “Most all the guys that I coached were good people, and I enjoyed coaching them”, he said. “The biggest thing for me in terms of coaching was watching the guys succeed and doing what we told them to do and him buying into that”.
“I think that was probably Ryan Shazier. He was a guy that really loved to play the game, really loved to do what you asked him to do”, he went on. “And he was a great guy to coach. Not that I didn’t have a bunch of other great guys to coach, but he was one of them”.
The Steelers drafted Shazier, the inside linebacker out of Ohio State, 15th overall in 2014, which was Butler’s final year as position coach at linebacker before he was promoted to defensive coordinator. Shazier was a rare plug-and-play starter as a rookie, though injuries set him back.
He would go on to demonstrate himself as one of the most remarkable players and people in the sport, making the Pro Bowl in the 2016 and 2017 seasons before suffering a career-ending spinal injury. He spent the next couple of years trying to get back onto the field after first regaining the ability to even walk, but it was not to be.
Shazier was having a truly remarkable season in 2017 right up to his injury, having played just about every single defensive snap up to that point in game 12. He recorded 89 tackles by then and had three interceptions and 11 passes defensed, becoming one of the elite coverage linebackers.
The defense has not been the same without him. Devin Bush was drafted in the hopes that he could fill a similar niche, but let’s just say at this point in time that that has yet to develop into a reality. In fact, the inside linebacker position as a whole leaves much to be desired in his absence.
Butler mentioned other players like Larry Foote and Joey Porter, but I doubt anybody would be surprised that Shazier was the first name out of his mouth, who would go on to become an inspiration to many after his injury as well. He continues to live his life, having written a memoire, and with multiple business and charity ventures.