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Penn State Football: Secondary Coach Butler to Take Charge of Special Teams

by on March 04, 2012 2:10 AM

FOGELSVILLE, Pa. — Penn State is changing its offensive philosophy and defensive philosophy under first-year coach Bill O’Brien.

Special teams? Don’t expect it to be coached much different than it was during the Joe Paterno era.

Secondary coach John Butler, linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, defensive line coach Larry Johnson, tight ends coach John Strollo and running backs coach Charles London will all coach an area of special teams.

“My responsibility is that I’m kind of overseeing everything,” Butler said Friday here at the Holiday Inn and Conference Center, where he joined O’Brien at a Nike coaches clinic. “Meaning I’m gonna assist Coach O’Brien in the organizational aspect of it.”

It’s a format that’s common across college football, but one that has nevertheless left some Penn State fans scratching their heads in recent years.

Paterno was often left answering questions about why he divvied up responsibilities among multiple coaches, especially when special teams played a major factor in the outcome of a loss — 2009 comes to mind when Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn returned his blocked punt for a touchdown in a 21-10 victory, ending Penn State’s bid for an unbeaten season.

Handling special teams on a full-time basis on top of being a position coach is no joke, Butler said.

At South Carolina, Butler, 38, served as special teams coordinator under Steve Spurrier but also assisted coaching the linebackers.

Under O’Brien, Butler’s main responsibility will be coaching a secondary that lost all four starters from a year ago.

“There isn’t [a lot of film], but we have plenty of time to evaluate them in person,” said Butler, who will primarily recruit eastern Pennsylvania. "I don’t know how they were coached in the past. I don’t know if they were coached the way I want it done or coached the way they want it done, and what they did in the past has worked very well.

“The guys back are athletic, young, needs some more experience, but I think we’ll be fine.”

Sophomore Adrian Amos and senior Stephon Morris should enter spring practice, which starts March 26, near the top of the depth chart at corner. Expect redshirt juniors Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and fifth-year senior Jacob Fagnano to compete for the starting safety jobs.

Butler has a simple vision for his secondary: athletic, smart and the ability to play both man and zone coverage.

What coverage that is, however, won’t be his decision.

That’s for O’Brien and defensive coordinator Ted Roof to choose. Roof has said he’ll employ a multiply aggressive defense.

“It’s not a matter of deferring,” said Butler, who worked with Roof at Minnesota in 2008. “Ted runs the defense, and I coach what he wants to play. Obviously as we develop gameplans, I’ll offer suggestions if asked.”

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Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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