October 6, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions fans cheer during the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

John Butler And The Penn State Defense

The sudden announcement on Wednesday evening of Ted Roof’s resignation was met with the mixed emotions you probably expected.  Roof was something of a lightning rod all season, despite a defense that ranked 16th nationally in points allowed.  While some of his play calling can certainly be questioned, the same can be said for anyone not named Kirby Smart, and his defense more often than not made plays when plays were needed.  After years of the vanilla cover-2 Tom Bradley and Joe Paterno preached, Roof brought in an aggressive, man-to-man, blitzing philosophy that took more advantage of the athleticism of the Nittany Lions defense.

With Roof’s departure, former secondary coach John Butler was promoted to defensive coordinator, continuing a 20 year rise through the coaching ranks.  Before I go any further, I should point out that it is largely assumed that defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., and linebacker coach Ron Vanderlinden are quite happy in their current positions, and do not have much of a desire to take on a larger role. Butler is a native of the suburban Philadelphia, graduating from LaSalle College High School and then going on to play college football at Catholic University.  His previous coaching stops include a 2 year GA stint at Texas, linebackers special teams at Minnesota, and special teams at South Carolina, before coming to Penn State.

When Butler met the media on Thursday, he said to not expect much of a change in the aggressive defensive philosophy from the 2012 version.  “I think a definition of that is you got to create confusion with your opponent, meaning we’re not going to sit back on our heels in one look, one coverage, and let the offense dictate how we’re going to play them,” he said. “Aggressive doesn’t mean we’re going to blitz them every snap. That’s not what aggressive means.”

A key for Butler, and the rest of the defensive staff, will be to replace the talent lost to graduation.  Stephon Morris, Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill are all gone.  He acknowledged as much, and says he relishes the opportunity to get out and recruit.  “I love recruiting. To be honest with you, it’s probably the most important element about you as a coach,” he said. “You have to go accumulate talent, you have to get players, and our success on the field on defense will be greatly determined by the players we bring in here on defense and how they perform.”

Recruiting has been a focus in the aftermath of Roof’s departure, as his southern roots were viewed as a key in expanding PSU’s role in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.  While Roof’s ties to the area were certainly helpful, PSU relied on more than just Ted Roof.  The previous staff largely ignored those talent rich states, and O’Brien made it clear from his first day on the job that would no longer be the case.  O’Brien has a background down south from his time at Duke and Georgia Tech, as do assistant coaches Stan Hixon, Mac McWhorter, as well as Butler.  Roof’s name will certainly be missed, but it’s hard to imagine the success of this year’s 8-4 season, as well as O’Brien’s rapid rise to fame won’t open doors.

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