Q&A: Keith Butler

SCI publisher Jim Wexell with an exclusive one-on-one interview with the new Steelers defensive coordinator.

Keith Butler, Defensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers

Q: As the assistant to the coordinator, you've had your ideas for years. This is your chance to implement them. Is this basically the full-go chance to implement your dreams?

A: Ah, yeah. I like some of the stuff we've done in the past though. As a coach you look at things and see things differently according to your background, because all of us have had different coaches in our lives, people who've influenced us. Those tend to show up when you're coaching. You do the things that you want to do. Yeah, there are some things I want to do and be able to do and have wanted to do for a while, because I thought they were a little bit more simple and I want to let the guys play without thinking too much.

Q: Anything that will be noticeable to fans?

A: I think it'll be subtle. Unless you're somebody who really knows a lot about football you might not see a lot of difference. But there will be. There'll be a lot of difference in what we're teaching the players and what we're doing with them.

Q: You mentioned your influences. Who are some of your major influences?

A: I played for a guy named Jackie Simpson. He coached the San Diego Chargers for awhile. He died at an early age. He also coached at Seattle. He was the defensive coordinator. Probably the biggest influence I had was a guy named Tom Catlin. He was the defensive coordinator at Seattle when I was there. He was Chuck Knox's coordinator at the time. My dad had a lot of influence on me, the way he coached. He was a peewee football coach. I had three sisters and two brothers and we all played for him. When the boys got too old he coached the girls. He coached football. He coached softball. He coached everything. He had a real good way with the people he coached. They all loved him.

Q: Is he still alive?

A: No, he died about 13 years ago with lung cancer. But there are a lot of people who influence you, everybody that coaches. You go different ways but we'll even do something today that was influenced by a college coach. We call it the pursuit drill. We haven't done it in years but we'll do it today but there are different things that in terms of the way you like to do things. Some things you like as you go along with your coaching career, and some things you don't like. The things you don't like you eliminate; the things you like you try to keep and enhance.

Q: Once after a promotion I was told to make my mark, be different from the guy I replaced. Do you have any thoughts like that?

A: I'm not afraid of being different but I'm not going to strive to be different either. I'm going to try to do what's best for our guys and I think a good coach always sees what his guys do best, and enhances what they do best. So that's what I'm going to try to do.

Q: Did you and Dick LeBeau part on good terms?

A: Sure. I talked to him for a long time. He understands this is the way the business works. It wasn't easy for either one of us. I think it worked out probably for the best. Everybody's got a job. He's in Tennessee right now. I love Ken Whisenhunt. He's a very good friend of mine. We play golf every year. But I like Mike Tomlin, too. I've worked for Mike for a while. He's worked for me. I'm glad I got to stay here.

Q: Mike was saying his advice to you is 'Just call the plays.'

A: Yeah.

Q: What does that mean?

A: He's saying lean on your knowledge and lean on your experience and call the plays. Sometimes he knows I like to get involved in coaching, too, and sometimes when you call the plays you can't get involved in coaching. You've got to go to the next call and you've got to have your mind on the next call, the next play, stuff like that instead getting pissed off at a linebacker or a defensive lineman for not carrying out what you need to do. Get along. Get on with the game. That's what he talks about.

Q: Is there a key to this? A key player here?

A: Well, yeah, there are a lot of things. We've got to have some people come through. Our corners, we've got to have them play well. Then we've got to have Jarvis (Jones). Jarvis has to play well. So does (Ryan) Shazier. Our linebackers have to be good. We count on (Stephon) Tuitt to be good, and Cam (Heyward) and Steve (McLendon). We expect them to be good. We expect a good role for James (Harrison) and (Arthur) Moats and Bud (Dupree). Those four outside linebackers have got to be good players for us, as well as the inside linebackers. We feel good about our backup linebackers.

Q: You should.

A: Yeah, we do. We feel good about our front seven, and our front seven has got to play well and help us out. We think they can. The thing we've got to do is make sure we don't give up anything easy, make people go the long, hard way to do it, and be physical. We want to be physical and I always say run and hit. I've always said that. If we can get players to run and hit we can be OK. We've got those players and now they've just got to do it.

Q: That's a lot you need to come together.

A: Yep.

Q: But you have a lot of impressive young names. Is a great defense bubbling under the surface?

A: I hope that's the case. I thought Jarvis was playing really well last year when he got hurt, and so was Shazier. Shazier was coming along, too. I was excited about them and I'm still excited about those guys. I think they'll come along and develop. And Lawrence (Timmons) has had Pro Bowl seasons for a number of years. This is the first time he's been recognized for it. I think he's going to help us, too, especially with his knowledge of the game.

Q: I didn't hear you mention Mike Mitchell, the free safety who struggled last year.

A: Right. We count on Mike to be rangy, all over the field. Be able to go from sideline to sideline and have a little bit better feel for the defense this year and how to play within the framework of the defense and not try to get outside the framework of the defense. If he does that we'll be OK.

Q: Do you think he will?

A: Yes.

Q: Did injuries really hurt him?

A: Yes.

Q: And did playing with such an instinctive player like Troy --

A: It hurts you because he didn't know the defense like Troy did. Troy knew the defense backwards and forwards and Mike might've thought he knew it all at the time, but it's hard to understand all this defense unless you play in it for a couple of years, or at least a year. I think he'll be much, much better this year. And I'm counting on Shamarko (Thomas). I didn't mention his name. I should've mentioned his name. I'm counting on him. I think he's going to be a very physical safety for us. That's got to show up. Got to show up in games.

Q: We're talking about a lot of long-range stuff. What do you want to see right now?

A: Oh, I just want to see a knowledge of the defense. Everybody looks good in shorts. When we get in pads, I want to see those guys who can do it in pads because that's the way we do it in the games. Right now I just want to see some hustle and knowledge of the game and some good enthusiasm, which I think we have.


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