Penn State will have a new defensive coordinator in 2013, but that doesn’t mean the team will have a new defensive strategy.
John Butler was promoted to defensive coordinator from secondary coach Wednesday after Ted Roof departed from Penn State to run the defense at Georgia Tech. Butler, who has spent 18 years in the coaching ranks, addressed the media Thursday and said he feels prepared for his new role.
“Every job you take and every task you take on in coaching, you’re basically getting yourself ready for the next opportunity,” Butler said. “This is obviously a tremendous honor that [coach Bill O’Brien] has given me the opportunity to take over as the defensive coordinator at Penn State, but there’s going to be a ton of consistency…It’s going to be very similar to what we did in 2012.”
Butler joined Penn State’s staff last January after O’Brien was tabbed as the team’s head coach. He said that everything in terms of Roof’s departure and his promotion happened on Wednesday. Butler noted Roof and O’Brien talked in the morning and by Wednesday evening, O’Brien had offered him the job.
“I don’t know the exact timeline, but Bill came in and said ‘I’m going to promote you to be the defensive coordinator,’ ” Butler said. “I said ‘Well, that’s great. Thanks a lot. And what do you need me to do?’ It wasn’t like there was a surprise party associated with it.”
In Roof’s lone season on the Penn State sideline, the team’s defense ranked 16th nationally in scoring defense, (19.1 points per game), had 22 takeaways and held opponents to 353.4 yards per contest.
Butler — whose coaching career includes stops at South Carolina, Minnesota and Harvard among other schools — said he and Roof see eye-to-eye on a lot of defensive principles. Butler noted he plans to run an aggressive defense that uses multiple looks to confuse offenses and is able to adapt during a game.
“One of the biggest things we’re going to try to do is create problems for the offense, become a difficult defense for our opponents to prepare for,” Butler said.
Though he’s only been with the Lions for one season, Butler was able to make quite an impression on some players. Cornerback Stephon Morris, who just completed his senior season, said Butler was one of his favorite coaches at any level of football.
“He’s a smart guy, he’s a funny guy, he knows his football,” Morris said. “I kind of look at him as one of us, he’s one of the guys. He’s always joking around, but he’s very passionate. It’s easy to relate to him.”
Penn State has yet to hire someone to fill Butler’s void as the secondary coach, but the Philadelphia native said he plans on still having a coaching role with the team’s defensive backs. Butler was also involved with the Lions’ special teams, but he said he was unsure on what his role will be with the unit in 2013.
Joining Butler on the defensive staff are linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and defensive line coach Larry Johnson . The duo has spent a combined 29 years on Penn State’s sideline, and Butler said he believes Vanderlinden and Johnson are behind the recent coaching change.
“You have one of the best linebackers coaches in football, one of the best defensive line coaches in football with you, helping you put together a plan,” Butler said. “What a great opportunity, working with those guys and whoever else we hire to continue to maintain the standard of excellence we have here at Penn State on defense.”
Upon learning about his promotion, Butler said he talked to the majority of the defensive players individually and informed them there will be no major changes to the defense, despite the coaching switch.
“All our players love the system that we put in at our camp last year, and they’re excited about continuing to develop that system moving forward,” Butler said. “I think everyone understands it’s going to be business as usual.”
Butler stood out on the sideline at points during the 2012 season due to his fiery temperament. Whether it was a player or an official, if someone did something Butler didn’t like, he wasn’t afraid to let them know about it.
Morris said Butler is just as intense at practice as he is at games, and even though the coach has a new position with the team, Butler said his attitude isn’t going to change.
“I think you’ve got to be who you are,” Butler said. “If I showed up to practice one day and I had my hands folded and was very quiet, the kids would look at me and say ‘Who’s this clown?’ ”