Butler Seizes His Opportunity

Penn State secondary coach is making the jump to defensive coordinator. With the help of veterans Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, he plans to build on the scheme former coordinator Ted Roof used.

John Butler went to work Wednesday morning as Penn State's secondary coach, a position he held since joining Bill O'Brien's staff in January of 2012. By lunchtime, he had been promoted to defensive coordinator.

Early in the morning, former defensive coordinator Ted Roof informed O'Brien that he was leaving to take the same position at his alma mater -- Georgia Tech. A few minutes later, O'Brien walked down the hall to Butler's office.

“Billy came in and said, 'I'm going to promote you to defensive coordinator,' ” Butler recalled. “I said, 'Great. Thanks a lot. What do you need me to do?' ”

And just like that, the 39-year-old with nearly two decades of experience and six previous coaching stops on his resume became O'Brien's top assistant. The defensive coordinator is especially important in the PSU hierarchy since O'Brien doubles as offensive coordinator, so he essentially needs someone to oversee the entire defense.

That man is now Butler, though he insists he will have plenty of help on his side of the ball. He expects veterans Larry Johnson (defensive line) and Ron Vanderlinden (linebackers) to remain on the staff and for the unit as a whole to build on what Roof established in 2012 (as opposed to going with an entirely new approach).

“There is going to be a ton of consistency with Ron being here and Larry being here -- they're two great coaches,” Butler said. “We're going to put this together similar to what we did in 2012. … We're going to be multiple, we're going to be aggressive. But we're going to be simple enough that our players can play really fast. … It doesn't come down to what I know or Ron knows or Larry knows; it comes down to what the players know and how fast they can play.”

In his new role, Butler will continue to coach either the safeties or cornerbacks -- the decision on which has yet to be made. He said questions about who would fill the now vacant spot on the staff should be directed to O'Brien. Butler added he is not sure exactly what his role will be on special teams -- he was something of a coordinator for the units last season.

There is one thing that won't change at all, though. Easily the most animated coach at PSU practices and on the sideline last season -- which was saying something considering O'Brien's fiery nature -- Butler intends to be just as vocal in 2013.

“You have to be who you are,” Butler said. “If I show up for practice one day and my hands are folded and I'm quiet, the kids will look at me and say, 'Who is this clown?' They can see through that.”

As for his demonstrative ways on the sideline, he laughed when he said, “While it may appear that I've lost my mind, I haven't.”

The Penn State defense must replace key players like All-Big Ten tackle Jordan Hill, and All-Big Ten linebacker Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Butler thinks PSU has the personnel to do it. He said the next couple of months will help determine who the defensive leaders will be, and added that players like linebackers Glenn Carson and Mike Hull, defensive backs Adrian Amos, Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, and defensive linemen DaQuan Jones and Deion Barnes provide a good nucleus around which to build.

“They just have to keep getting better and developing their roles on the football team and hopefully we can bring along some of the young guys to fill the holes we have,” Butler said.

Penn State's overall scheme will stay the same -- meaning the Lions will vary their looks with the goal of confusing offenses. The terminology used in play-calling will be the same, too. Where everything was brand new to the players last offseason, now a lot of it is second-nature.

“It's repetitive learning,” Butler said. “It's not like they're learning a whole lot of new stuff. They're getting better at things they already know.”

As for Butler, he knows he'll have a bit of a learning curve in his new job. But he believes his experience will carry him through whatever challenges arise.

When opportunity knocked -- in the form of O'Brien showing up at his office telling him he had been promoted -- Butler gladly opened the door.

“I put 20 years of coaching into preparing for this,” he said. “One thing about me, I'm not going to shy away from an opportunity.”

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