Even though Keith Butler has already announced his retirement, the Pittsburgh Steelers do not appear to be in any great hurry to name a new defensive coordinator to succeed the man who held the job for the past seven years.
Butler inherited the role from Dick LeBeau in 2015, who had been on the job for over a decade. But it was actually Butler who had been in Pittsburgh longer, serving as linebackers coach. Even though he had a specific position to preside over, everybody on defense knew him, including Cameron Heyward as a young rookie defensive lineman in 2011, who understands it will be an adjustment not to have him around for the first time in his career.
“It’s different”, he said during Pro Bowl practices on Thursday. “As a younger guy, Butz was the linebacker coach, and everybody heard from Coach LeBeau. I saw Butz grow as a coach, and being the leader of that group. We’re all gonna miss him. He had this engine running for a long time”.
Butler joined the Steelers’ staff as linebackers coach in 2003, with LeBeau being brought back as defensive coordinator a year later. The two ran the ship on defense for most of the next decade, though as Mike Tomlin came in at head coach, he gradually took over greater authorship toward the end of LeBeau’s tenure.
Butler also confirmed as he exited that it had been Tomlin who was responsible for bulk of the in-game defensive play-calling during his own entire stint as defensive coordinator, a role that the head coach had taken over in the late seasons of LeBeau’s stay.
Still, it can’t be denied that Butler held a great influence over this entire defense for nearly two decades. He certainly was a very fine position coach, sending numerous players from Joey Porter, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley to James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons to Pro Bowls.
And his defenses over the past five years have been the top of the league as pass rushers, leading in sacks each year, with more than 50 sacks year after year. It’s a historic run in terms of pass-rushing excellence, as well as scheme.
The Steelers have been connected to a few potential interviewees for the vacant defensive coordinator role, though the assumption has been that senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin, who has prior experience as coordinator, will be given the role.
Either way, it seems assured that Tomlin will continue to wield great influence over the unit, and figures to retain the duties of setting the defense during games. Tomlin was a defensive coordinator before he got the job in Pittsburgh; about a third of the league’s head coaches retain play-calling responsibilities for offense or defense, so he is certainly not unique.