Penn State Football: Butler Takes Call From Past Colleague as He Transitions to Defensive Coordinator
John Butler, fresh off a new promotion, was about to take his wife out to dinner Wednesday night when he received a call from his old colleague, Lorenzo Ward, the defensive coordinator at South Carolina.
Ward, who just wrapped up his first season directing the defense for coach Steve Spurrier, called to congratulate Butler, who is about to step into the defensive coordinator shoes himself for the first time ever in 2013 following Ted Roof’s decision to return to Georgia Tech.
Butler asked Ward about the transition. The South Carolina defense allowed 18.2 points per game and allowed an average of 315 yards per game last year, both finishing fourth in the SEC and in the top 15 nationally.
Like Penn State, South Carolina led its conference in sacks and was third in tackles for loss. As Ward says, “the front seven is where it’s at.”
“Go get some (Jadeveon) Clowneys,” Ward told Butler. Clowney, the freakish defensive end, amassed 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles in his sophomore year.
Prospects such as him don’t present themselves very often. And when they do, it’s a full-out assault on the recruiting trail to land a player like him. But the message sunk in, and Butler relayed it Thursday afternoon on a 20-minute call with PSU beat writers.
“Our success on the field on defense will be greatly determined by the players we bring in here on defense,” he said.
Butler has a few pieces to work with at Penn State in linebackers Glenn Carson and Mike Hull, defensive linemen DaQuan Jones and Deion Barnes and defensive back Adrian Amos.
He also has defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, two of the best position coaches in the country. Both coaches had said during the season they are happy in their roles.
“They're fully invested in everything that's happened in the past, on the field, and everything that we did last year and everything that we're going to do moving forward,'' Butler said.
There will not be any major philosophical changes from last year, said Butler, who still plans to be involved in coaching the secondary in some fashion.
He sounded like a man eager to get to work, always thinking about how his past experiences have helped prepare him for the next opportunity.
It’s why he does not intend to stop acting like a firecracker on the practice field and sideline.
“Players and co-workers can sniff out phony in a heart beat,” Butler said. “If I showed up at practice one day and I had my hands folded and I was very quiet, the kids would look at me and say, ’Who’s this clown?' They can see through that.
“Some guys will see my demeanor on the sideline and they may misunderstand that. You know, I'm incredibly competitive. I think I have the ability in those situations, while it may appear I might have lost my mind, I haven’t.”
It’s why he is even at Penn State, working for Bill O’Brien instead of Steve Spurrier at South Carolina.
Ward said Spurrier hired Butler primarily to be the special teams coach.
Butler wanted to be more involved.
When he talked with O’Brien about joining the staff, as a secondary coach and overseeing the special teams, the decision to come to Penn State was an easy one.
“(Spurrier) saw him as a special teams guy,” Ward said. “That’s one of the reasons why I think John left.”
And, it’s why he accepted O’Brien’s offer to become the new defensive coordinator.
“Every day it’s about the opportunities you create yourself through the systems and through the organizations you work with,” Butler said. “I’m prepared for this. When the opportunity comes, one thing about me is I’m never gonna shy away from an opportunity.”
Butler is one of the younger assistants on O’Brien’s staff. Here’s his chance to further his career and springboard into whatever next awaits him.
The reality, Ward said, is that it’s rare for a school or organization to take a chance on a head coach who has not been either in charge of the offense or defense. Once you have control, then you enter that realm of candidates who can take the next, and pivotal, step to the top of a profession loaded with competitive people like Butler.
“If you’re not in charge,” said Ward, who this year turned down the Georgia State job, “how do they know you can be a head coach? The bottom line is, you gotta make sure you do this right because you might get but one shot at it.”