Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler is a down-to-earth guy. If he wasn’t, he admits he probably wouldn’t be the defensive coordinator.
“If they just dropped me off from Mars yesterday and said you have to call the defense of Penn State with no experience, I'd be nervous as hell because I'd have no preparation and no background,” he said.
But after 19 years of coaching, Butler is numb to the ubiquitous pressure of commanding Penn State’s defense. His boss, Bill O’Brien, is an offensive-minded guy, so Butler’s responsibility is that much more important.
The defensive backs coach last season, Butler was promoted after former defensive coordinator Ted Roof left the program. Butler’s new gig is already cut out for him. Depth concerns at the linebacker position may require him to bring defensive backs such as Adrian Amos and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong into the box on some plays.
This is just one example of how Butler has had to expand his coaching vision from the secondary to an entire side of the line of scrimmage.
“Now it's a bigger picture, so there's more people to keep an eye on,” Butler said. “But I just think that's something that comes natural to me. When I was playing [basketball], I played point guard. I was on defense, I played in the secondary. I was a leadoff hitter in baseball.”
Simultaneously, he can’t lose sight of what makes him a unique coach.
“I'm going to be who I am,” he said.
John Butler is many things, but defensive lineman Austin Johnson can simplify his coach.
“He's intense,” Johnson said. “He's going to get on you if you don't run to the ball and if you don't give extreme effort. That's what he preaches.”
From a distance, O’Brien’s fervor may seem most obvious. Butler walks the sideline as his gameday baseball cap casts a shadow over his face. He’s harder to point out, but he demands the same hunger from his defense that O’Brien demands from his offense.
Of course, it’s still training camp. O’Brien’s offense versus Butler’s defense. Something’s got to give.
“When you go against each other in practice like that, it gets competitive,” O'Brien said. “I want the offense to do well. He wants the defense to do well. Every time you walk off the practice field, usually one side of the ball feels better than the other.”