Countdown to Blue-White / 19 Days: Is the Change in Defensive Coordinators Reason for Concern?
We are in some unfamiliar times when it comes to the title of Penn State’s defensive coordinator.
This is before we even dive into schematic changes including aggressive blitz packages and man coverage. The number two tells the beginning of the story. It represents how many assistant coaches have held the job for the Nittany Lions over the past calendar year. It is the same number of individuals who walked the Beaver Stadium sideline with that responsibility for the three and a half decades prior.
Tom Bradley became an experienced fixture within the program, holding the title for 11 seasons. His units were not always the most opportunistic, but they generally got the job done. The beginning of the Bill O’Brien regime brought Ted Roof, who despite a questionable track record, had spent over 25 seasons in college football and held the position at four previous stops including Auburn’s 2010 National Championship team.
John Butler, the Nittany Lions’ secondary coach in 2012, was immediately promoted following Roof’s homecoming departure to Georgia Tech, and all of a sudden, after years of a seasoned coach overseeing the unit, the man in charge of Penn State’s defense had never worked higher than a position coach or special teams coordinator in a major college program.
Should this concern Penn State fans? Quite the contrary, actually.
“John’s an excellent football coach,” said O’Brien when discussing the transition from Roof to Butler during his spring press conference. “He’s very detailed. He’s very intense and a quick-thinker. I really enjoy coaching with him, and he’s going to do a really good job for us.”
“Anyone that’s been to practice and watches John coach those guys — He’s a teacher. He accepts nothing less than their best.”
Butler’s players agree — both ones who were coached by him last year and members of the front seven who are seeing what the new defensive coordinator is all about.
“Coach Butler is a little more animated, a little more fiery,” said senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. “He’s bringing a swagger.”
His star pupil from last season was not surprised when Butler immediately received the promotion.
“He knew what everybody was suppose to do,” said junior cornerback Adrian Amos. “When I was in the meeting room with him, he told me what the defensive line was suppose to do, what linebackers were suppose to do.”
As Butler’s style remains the same, so should the defensive philosophy overall.
“Of course there’s a bit of twists and turns,” said senior linebacker Glenn Carson. “He’s put his own spin on it, but generally, I think he’s trying to keep things the same so it’s a lot easier for us.”
Butler’s reign will ultimately be determined by his players more than his personality. He knows that. Can Da’Quan Davis fill the shoes of Stephon Morris? Do Nyeem Wartman and Mike Hull have what it takes to replace Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti at the outside linebacker spots?
A coach can only take a unit so far, but players should be in good positions to succeed in Butler’s system. His youthful exuberance goes well with the old-school approaches of defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden — the two holdovers from the Joe Paterno era.
The departure of Roof and Butler’s promotion also made room for Anthony Midget, who had a successful collge career at Virginia Tech, as safeties coach.
“I’m taking it all in because he was an All-American. To get to the highest level, you really have to listen,” said senior safety Malcolm Willis.
Roof has forgotten more about defense than most people will ever learn, but his replacement is at a different point in his career, climbing the coaching ladder and looking forward to the new challenge.
“I’m prepared for this from almost 20 years of coaching. I never shy away from opportunity,” said a confident Butler when taking the job back in January.
If Penn State’s next change at defensive coordinator comes under O’Brien’s watch, it will likely be the result of Butler being summoned to run his own program. Perhaps then, it will be time to worry.
This is the fifteenth in a 33-day series about the Penn State football program leading up to the Blue-White Game on April 20. We’ve put together a team of football writers who will examine a variety of topics and answer key questions about Bill O’Brien’s team. Click here for past installments in the series.
Day 21: Is Glenn Carson Ready to Lead?