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January 11, 2013Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien called John Butler into his office at the Lasch Building on Wednesday morning, telling the assistant coach that he'd been chosen to take over Ted Roof's vacated defensive coordinator position.
"Outstanding," Butler said. "Thanks a lot... Let's move forward.
"What do you need me to do?"
The response was no-frills, appreciative, and very John Butler-like.
That is to say: impressive.
At Minnesota during a stint as linebackers coach between 2007 and 2010, Butler showed the same qualities in working with one of his coaching mentors, then-defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove.
Cosgrove, now the inside linebackers coach at New Mexico, learned of Butler's promotion to the position at Penn State earlier this week and, like many who have come to know the young coach, was not surprised.
"We were only together for two years, but I was very, very impressed with him," Cosgrove said. "John has just an unbelievable work ethic and outstanding energy. I had no doubt in my mind - and I've worked with a lot of coaches through my career - that he would be a coordinator and it wouldn't be long before he was one."
"I couldn't say enough good things about him. He's got a brilliant mind. He's football smart. He relates well with the players. He gets after you. He's got a lot of energy and he has tremendous passion. I wasn't surprised when he was named the defensive coordinator, not at all."
By seemingly every account, Butler is an extremely determined, highly-motivated, energetic coach with an intelligence for the game that matches his passionate approach.
He's also got an incredible motor, it seems.
For those Penn State fans unfamiliar with many members of the new coaching staff welcomed by O'Brien last winter, Butler was the one during the football season who, at times, resembled a team mascot on Penn State's sideline, dressed in khakis and a polo shirt while jumping, screaming, and generally causing a scene to get the attention of his players.
As he revealed Thursday afternoon, those characteristics are unlikely to change with his new title.
Said Butler, "I think you've got to be who you are. If I showed up to 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 could see through that.
"Obviously, you have to be able to make quick decisions. You have to be able to call a defense, you have to be able to adapt to the situations and I think I'm prepared to do that. I understand what I have to do and I don't think it's going to be an issue.
"But, I think sometimes when people see my demeanor on the sidelines they may misunderstand. I'm incredibly competitive and I think, in those situations, while it may appear that I have lost my mind, I haven't."
If anything, Butler's mind has proven to be an extremely valuable commodity at Penn State and various other programs across the country. Enthusiastic and positively exuberant to a fault, Butler said he has maintained the same undying, go-getter attitude throughout an 18-year coaching career that has shot him up the coaching ranks across the country.
Starting as a graduate assistant under at Texas in 1997, moving his way through assistant jobs at Catholic University, Midwestern State and Texas State, then a step up to Harvard for a few seasons, onward to Minnesota for four years, and one year at South Carolina before finally landing in Happy Valley last season, Butler has constantly been moving forward, and picking up an incredibly detailed mindset for defensive strategy along the way.
"He's an intelligent guy. He really studies the game and he knows how to defend a lot of different types of offenses," Cosgrove said. "He's got 'it'. He really does."
Those years and experiences, Butler said, all led him into the new role he's set to embark upon.
"I think everything has prepared me for this step," Butler said. "Every job you take and every task you take on in coaching, you're basically getting yourself ready for the next opportunity.
"Just like anything else in life, you never know what path (you're) going to take. You take the journey and, the next thing you know, you're at this spot, at that spot, you're learning and developing and nineteen years later, you're at Penn State and you're accepting the defensive coordinator's job."
Working with an extremely thin and relatively inexperienced group in the secondary in 2012, Butler oversaw the unit as it overcame early-season struggles en route to the No. 28-ranked pass efficiency defense nationally by the end of the season.
Now, while still keeping an active eye on the secondary, Butler will add a variety of new duties to his role, Cosgrove explained.
"Instead of managing his position, he's managing coaches too and he's responsible for the whole scheme of the defense," Cosgrove said. "I used to tell him, 'It's not going to be long. Just be patient.'
"He's an impressive guy, so when I saw he was being named coordinator, I didn't even think twice. To me, he was the natural pick."
Noting that he shares defensive philosophies with Roof, Butler said he expects Penn State's defense to continue its tradition of multiply aggressive formations likely to confuse opponents.
Though O'Brien promoted Butler over equally-qualified, veteran defensive assistants in Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson, the trio has already started to embrace its new role, Butler said.
"This is obviously a tremendous honor that Billy has given me the opportunity to take over as the defensive coordinator here at Penn State, but there's going to be a ton of consistency with Ron and Larry being here, two great coaches," Butler said. "We're going to put this thing together and it will be very similar to what we did in 2012.
"You just kind of adapt your marching orders and move on. You don't have that much time to think about it in any other aspect than that you have a job you gotta do."
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