John Butler’s job title is changing. His style is not.
Butler, Penn State’s new defensive coordinator following the departure of Ted Roof, will have increased responsibility after serving as the Nittany Lions’ secondary coach this past season. If everything goes according to plan, it will be a relatively smooth transition for both him and his players.
During the 2012 season, Butler oversaw a secondary that improved throughout the season despite being thin when it came to depth and experience. After struggling during losses against Ohio and Virginia, the secondary buckled down, only allowing 11 touchdown passes in the final 10 contests. Butler helped in this process by coaching with a fiery attitude that young players enjoyed. His booming voice could often be heard over every other drill during practice, and he was often one of the most animated coaches on the sidelines during games.
Position coaches — especially in comparison to coordinators — often get lost in the shuffle and often fail to be praised for a victory or blamed for a loss, but Butler still plans to be the same high-energy, emotional guy as he steps into the spotlight.
“If I showed up to practice one day with my arms folded and quiet, the kids would say ‘who’s this clown?'” said Butler during a Thursday afternoon conference call.
In the one season that they worked on the same staff, Butler learned a lot from Roof, including the ability to make in-game adjustments. He specifically cited the season finale against Wisconsin where the defense surrendered 14 points in the first 8 minutes of the game and then only allowed 7 points the rest of the way.
Along with the lessons taken from Roof, Butler will have the help of linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., the two holdovers from the Paterno regime and arguably two of the best position coaches in the country. Butler acknowledged this yesterday, and while his multiply aggressive scheme will be similar to Roof’s, he will be relying heavily on the two veteran assistants for help.
“Having an aggressive defense doesn’t mean you’re always going to blitz, but our goal is to create confusion. We will not let the opposing offense dictate how we are going to play,” explained Butler.
There is talent remaining on the defensive side of the ball. Glenn Carson, Mike Hull, Adrian Amos, and Deion Barnes are all returning, but there are also some key departures including Michael Mauti, Gerald, Hodges, and Stephon Morris. All the talk about scheme and philosophy aside, Butler knows that the defense will go as far as his players take it.
“Our success on defense will be greatly determined by the players we bring in,” said Butler, who intends to be heavily involved in the recruiting process.
For the upperclassmen who remain from 2011, the transition from Roof to Butler should be smoother than adjusting from Tom Bradley’s ultra-conservative philosophy that focused on cover-2 defense to Roof’s man-coverage scheme.
There are still a few questions to answer going forward in the offseason. Butler plans to still be involved with the secondary but is not sure if his focus will be on the cornerbacks or the safeties. With an open spot on the staff, Bill O’Brien will hire a new assistant coach at some point.
Despite some uncertainties, Butler is ready for the most important job of his career to date.
“I’m prepared for this from almost twenty years of coaching. I never shy away from opportunity,” he said.