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Steelers’ new defensive coordinator Butler: ‘It’s the dream of a lifetime’ |

Steelers’ new defensive coordinator Butler: ‘It’s the dream of a lifetime’

| Tuesday, January 13, 2015 11:18 a.m
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler during a 2014 practice on the South Side.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Steelers' Keith Butler talks with Jason Worilds earlier this season. Butler was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2014.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Colts receiver Hakeem Nicks catches a pass for a first down as Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen defends during the second quarter Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
The Steelers' Mike Mitchell and the Texans' Arian Foster get physical with each other during the second quarter Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, at Heinz Field.

Keith Butler is a 3-4 defensive alignment guy. He played more than a decade as a linebacker in the scheme and coached it for just as long.

However, Butler said he’s not opposed to the 4-3, either, the scheme the Steelers had so much success with during the 1970s.

“I would consider myself a whatever-it-takes-to-win guy,” Butler said.

The Steelers are banking on that to get their once-dominant defense back on track. They promoted Butler to defensive coordinator Tuesday, three days after parting ways with Dick LeBeau after 11 consecutive seasons.

The Steelers did not make Butler, who signed a three-year contract, available for questions by the media. Butler said in transcripts provided by the Steelers’ media relations department and posted to the team’s website that he plans to use a variation of defenses.

“I think you have to be able to fit your defense around the players you have,” Butler said. “So we don’t want to blow it up and say we won’t run the 3-4 anymore. We will run the 3-4, but we will run some 4-3 also, in our sub-package.”

The Steelers used four down linemen in a sub-package for years under LeBeau. Although specifics aren’t yet known when it comes to 4-3 personnel, the Steelers are confident Butler is the man to figure out what has ailed the defense of late.

The Steelers finished 18th this season and 13th last season in total defense and had two of their lowest sack totals (33 and 34, respectively) in franchise history. That was on the heels of four No. 1 rankings in a six-year span from 2007-12 under LeBeau.

LeBeau did it with veterans. Butler is going to have to do it with youth.

The Steelers used three of their past four first-round picks to address an aging defense. The Steelers went from having eight starters at least 30 years old in 2011 to a projected zero in 2015.

“He’s a great coach in terms of X’s and O’s,” linebacker Jason Worilds said of Butler on Tuesday. “He played inside linebacker so he sees the game from a signal-calling perspective. He knows where everyone is supposed to be.”

A concern could be Butler is too similar to LeBeau.

Butler coached under and worked closely with LeBeau for 11 seasons. They are close friends. They roomed together during training camp and played countless rounds of golf together.

When LeBeau was let go, Butler made sure to reach out to him.

It’s natural that some of their philosophies and priorities such as stopping the run will be the same. But others will be different.

“He knows what he wants to do and knows where he wants to go with this defense,” former Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke said. “He has all the qualities to be a great defensive coordinator.”

Hoke played seven season under Butler but never realized how much input Butler had until recently. Hoke spent the past two training camps as a defensive intern and saw firsthand what Butler brought on a daily basis.

“I was in the meeting room with him every day for a month and a half, so I saw it,” Hoke said. “What I quickly learned was his grasp of the entire defense. He is a guy who Coach LeBeau relied on heavily to game plan and that sort of thing. He is a really good coach, and he is ready and prepared to step up and be a good coordinator.”

Butler’s biggest virtue just might be his patience.

He has been the coordinator-in-waiting for several years. He was courted by the Dolphins, Colts, Cardinals and Titans over the past seven years but each time turned down the offer or, most recently, was blocked by the Steelers from leaving.

Butler’s three-year contract was up after the season, and the Steelers felt it was time to move on from LeBeau — a Hall of Famer — and proceed with Butler.

“It’s more important to me to win Super Bowls, and I think this organization gives us the best chance to win Super Bowls,” Butler said. “They never do anything based on a knee-jerk reaction, and I just admired the stability of the organization and the continuity of the organization. I wanted to be a part of that.

“This is a dream come true for me, and it would be for a lot of people. I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”

Note: The Steelers added safety Isaiah Lewis to their offseason roster. Lewis originally signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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