Keith Butler’s NFL career as both a player and coach spanned more than three decades before he announced his retirement in late January of this year. Being an NFL coach for 23 years usually means you’re doing something right, and for Butler, there were a plethora of bright moments for the defenses he spearheaded. On Tuesday evening, he was announced as a 2022 finalist for the Paul “Dr. Z” Award for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL, which is given out by the Professional Football Writers of America.
Joining him as a finalist are Bills’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and three other decorated NFL coaches who have passed away in Bobb McKittrick, Floyd Peters and Greg Knapp. The ‘Dr. Z’ award is named after the late Paul Zimmerman, who was the lead sports writer for Sports Illustrated for 29 years. It has been given out yearly since 2014. Longtime Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was a co-winner of the award in 2015 along with Tom Moore and Dante Scarnecchia.
Butler spent his entire time playing in the NFL as a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks from 1978-1987. He coached the Cleveland Browns from 1999-2002 before coming to Pittsburgh. His latest and longest tenure in the league began in 2003 when he accepted a job as a linebacker coach for the Steelers. Butler was so successful with coaching up players like James Harrison, Joey Porter and LaMarr Woodley that he was offered the defensive coordinator position in 2015 after LeBeau left the Steelers. For the most part, he thrived in that role as Pittsburgh finished as the sixth-ranked or better defense four times between 2017 and 2020. In 2019 and 2020, the Steelers finished top five in scoring defense.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin released this statement when talking about Butler’s retirement:
“I appreciate everything Keith Butler did for me personally, and our entire team and coaching staff, during the 15 years I spent with him here in Pittsburgh,” Tomlin said in a statement. “Keith and I began our friendship in 1996 at the University of Memphis and have remained close to this day. He helped build some of the greatest defenses in the league during our time together in Pittsburgh, and I am appreciative of his dedication and commitment to making our players better on and off the field.”
In addition to Butler, Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward was named a finalist for the Good Guy Award, which is handed out to a player that shows professionalism in dealing with the media. Washington Commanders receiver Terry McLaurin, Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons and new New York Jets tight end CJ Uzomah are the other finalists. The PFWA Off-Field Awards are announced before teams finish spring OTAs.