Steelers’ Butler Needs His Opportunity

Keith ButlerI am going to do something that will more than likely get me in trouble with the Yinzers but I just have to say it. No, I’m not going to bash the running game but this is right there I suppose. I’m suggesting that the Pittsburgh Steelers need to give linebackers’ coach Keith Butler the opportunity to run the Steelers’ defense.

Yes I know exactly what that means. It means that, (gulp!) Dick LeBeau would have to finally ride off into retirement. So where should I stand in order to receive my public stoning for mentioning such a thing?

This isn’t an indictment of LeBeau’s defense as much as it is a commentary on giving Butler the reigns he has allegedly been promised. At 56 years old, the Memphis grad has been waiting in the wings now as LeBeau’s heir apparent since 2003 and he isn’t getting any younger.

During that time he’s coached guys like James Farrior, Joey Porter, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison to Pro Bowl seasons. He has also helped coach up the defense that has ranked annually in the top five in the league.

Butler is no stranger to the 3-4 defense either. He instituted it at his Alma mater and had great success with it there even upsetting Tennessee led by Peyton Manning. That certainly turned out to be a harbinger of things to come for Manning didn’t it?

Throughout this off-season we have seen interesting and questionable decisions made by the front office. We’ve seen and heard comments from current and former players about a shift in attitudes and even philosophy. What has seemingly remained steady through all of that has been Dick LeBeau who returns from yet another season where his defense ranked number one in the league.

LeBeau is a legend. You’ll get no argument from me on this. He has earned the right to decide when he wants to be done, but that shouldn’t excuse the fact that the defense has become predictable and for the second straight year struggled to create turnovers.

Look back over his career in recent years and you’ll also see an alarming number of fourth quarter letdowns resulting in losses or comebacks from the offense. I’m not suggesting that Keith Butler will be better or even on par with LeBeau as a defensive coordinator but the man is ready and with the defense in transition over the next few years, is there a better time to make the switch?

How could I possibly think that we should make a change here right? Again, I’m not saying this will happen or should happen this year because it isn’t. I would be OK with it, but it isn’t happening.

At this point, if I’m Keith Butler, I can’t afford to turn down opportunities with other teams because he deserves his shot sooner rather than later. While the Steelers can limit his options in this regard, they need to do more than promise him a position. Should he choose to leave as Ray Horton did, I won’t blame him one bit. This is exactly why he needs his shot at running the Steelers’ defense.

Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.

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10 comments on “Steelers’ Butler Needs His Opportunity

  1. As much as it hurts me to say it, It’s time for a change at DC. I love LeBeau, but Butler is ready! From what I remember, the last time Butler re-upped it was for DC like money and the chosen heir to Dick. He’s been in waiting for years now. The lack of sacks and turnovers over the last couple years is unacceptable! I don’t care what our overall D ranking was!
    Go Steelers!

  2. Wow, why is age even a factor, look at the individual for what they have done and what they reasonably are expected to do. If Coach LeBeau were 50 would anyone be talking about giving him the boot or some sort of gracious forced retirement? No, the defense is coming off a very good year and as a DC is has been fantastic, what if he can coach another ten years? He is in great shape, while it is no guarantee he will coach the next five years, when is there ever. Remember one day if your lucky you will be old and you wouldn’t want someone to force you out of a job that you are excelling at.

    • My feelings regarding LeBeau don’t have anything to do with his age although I do believe there could be an argument for it, that isn’t where I’m coming from. The defense has become stale and predictable especially when it is without pressure and when it has injuries. As was pointed out by another reader, Butler turned down opportunities to move on and the Steelers rewarded him with big money to stay on as LB coach with the promise of the DC job when LeBeau retires. My concern is that LeBeau may never retire and Butler’s opportunity will be wasted.

      • I hear you and I am not saying that Butler could not do the job, but until he does he is an unknown. LeBeau is not an unknown. I hear a lot of people discounting how well the Steelers played Defense kind of throwing out the fact that they have been great statistically. I don’t know a lot about Butler but I don’t think that having an heir apparent is a good thing, also one good year who knows Butler could be offered a head coaching job and then you have Butler gone and LeBeau retired. Something else that I have noticed about LeBeau he genially cares about his players and that is a big deal not saying Butler doesn’t, but LeBeau has the Reputation, if it ain’t broke, that’s all I’m saying.

        • Can’t argue with your logic Mike. For all we know Butler could be horrible as a DC and then I’d look like an idiot but that wouldn’t be the first time. When I look at the overall picture of where the Steelers are now and for the next few years, the change to Butler just makes sense. I really think Butler would bring a lot of new looks to the defense and that is something that is needed in my opinion.

  3. I’ve been saying this for years. It’s Keith Butlers time and I can’t wait. YEs. We have been statistically Great on paper but it’s past time for them to move on from Dick LeBeau. It seems every year it’s just one more year or LeBeau. Well this is Butlers last year under contract and If I’m him its promote me or bye bye. It’s time for him to run a Defense. THIS DEFENSE!

  4. In order for Butler to take over for the legend that is LeBeau then I would think he would have to greatly improve his own unit at lest. Yes I know he has had great success with our LBs in the past, but we need help there NOW. Woodley has to go back to his probowl form in the tune of at lest 10+ sacks, and he has the be the force in the run game and set his edge. Worilds should have been ready to go a season or two ago, as of now anything less than 8 sacks would be a disappointment, he also has to pull his weight in the run game and at lest be effective in setting his edge. We no longer have an Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, or James Harrison to shut down the run, Worilds needs to step up in that regard. Lawrence Timmons has to reach his all-pro status, we all have seen he has the talent to be a top 5 ILB in the league, he just needs to consistently play at that level. Last but not lest Jarvis Jones has to live up to his hype and step up and be a pass rushing threat much earlier than it took Worilds. Pass rushers are a direct cause of causing turnovers ,and turnovers win games. You may think having ball hawks in the secondary is what causes turnovers but not on this team. As Ike Taylor has said turnovers are over rated for players at his position. He said that mostly the CBs with high interceptions are more often than not the ones who get burned as well due to being too aggressive and missing. It has been a long lasting hypothesis of my that Steeler CBs are suppose to have a check list of things they have to worry about, intercepting the ball being near the bottom of the list. Steeler CBs are taught to cover their zone and prevent the big play by either knocking the ball loose or tackling the receiver for little YAC. That is why the pass rush is so important, you beat on the QB and occasionally get a fumble out of it and pressures cause erratic throws that can be intercepted in the back half. That would be Butler’s responsibility. I would like to see Butler have a greater role in wright up defensive plays and blitzes along with LeBeau’s plays. I’d also like to see Butler act as the DC in training camp and during preseason games, just as a bit of a trail run. Even if Butler decides to go see if the grass is greener else where, all is not lost. Carnell Lake has had great success in his early career as the Steelers DB coach. The idea of LeBeau being labeled as predictable seems a bit far fetched, I bet Bill Belichick is still kicking him self for basically calling LeBeau predictable. He did change things up and played man coverage with a 4-2-5 front with Keisel as an “OLB” with any combination of interior linemen with Woodley on the opposite side with Timmons and Foote being the ILBs. They have also shown defense with 3 safeties on the field with Gay and Clark playing deep and Polamalu in the box. Last year they shown the big nickel defense with 4 linemen on the field with 2 LBs. They also have the 1-5-5 with only one down linemen with either an additional linemen standing up and moving around (usually Keisel) or add an additional 5th LB. I would like to see LeBeau add a bit of a hybrid 4-3 defense occasionally some what like the Broncos or Ravens D. McLendon, Hood, and Heyward are all capable of playing the interior of a 4-3 and is actually better suited in that defense, Woodley and Worilds played DE in college. Timmons can handle either the middle and outside linebacker spots, Jones could act as a poor man’s Von Miller/3rd down passrusher

    • Austin, you did more writing here than I’ve done in a month! LoL I totally agree with a lot of what you have said here especially about Woodley and in regards to Lake’s future. In terms of LeBeau and predictability, I think you are kind of making my point for me. He came up with some really creative fronts, blitz packages and schemes in general during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. I would also point to that New England game as an example. My question is, why did he move away from that creativity? Was the lack of health? Was it the lack of a consistent pass rush? Maybe it was a lack of faith in some of the replacements. I would be much less inclined to want to see change at the DC spot if he were to return to those days.

      • I’m sure losing two of his top pass rushers that came back at less than 100% would have had a role in that. They could have played some more big nickel 4-2-5 but that means little pass rush seeing as Keisel and Hood don’t exactly make great 4-3 DEs. I do expect to see more 1-5-5 fronts now that we have Jarvis Jones.

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