Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The Cardinals, Steelers and Keith Butler
By Mike Sando
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Keith Butler didn't want to say much, at least initially, about his prospects as a candidate to become the Arizona Cardinals' defensive coordinator.
"I'm Sergeant Schultz -- I know nothing," the Pittsburgh Steelers' linebackers coach joked during Super Bowl media day Tuesday.
At this point, I turned to ESPN.com colleague John Clayton, who covered Butler's playing career in Seattle, and jokingly asked for what the Cardinals have so far failed to secure from the Steelers: permission to speak with Butler about a coaching job in Arizona.
We laughed, and it wasn't for the last time.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, Butler's golfing buddy and former coaching associate in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, requested permission to interview Butler following the Super Bowl two years ago. The Steelers denied the request.
Tuesday, Butler repeatedly credited Steelers' ownership for stepping up to keep him in Pittsburgh. He pointed to Dan Rooney in particular for setting up the organization in a manner that has produced six Super Bowl championships.
"And the Rooneys did something they normally don't do with assistant coaches," Butler said. "I am cognizant of that."
What was it, I asked, that was so unusual?
"They gave me a lot of money," Butler said, his deadpan delivery enhanced by an accent with roots in Alabama, where he was born, and Memphis, where he played linebacker.
"It was unusual for a linebackers coach to make that kind of money," Butler said. "That was commitment from them. I am very fond of the Rooneys. I think they are great owners."
Butler credited Dan Rooney for playing a pivotal role in settling the two player strikes that marked Butler's playing career. He said he thought Rooney, now U.S. ambassador to Ireland, should play a role in solving in the current labor impasse.
"He has been a great asset for the league and the proof is in the pudding -- they've got six Lombardi trophies sitting in the trophy case in our office we see every day," Butler said.
If Butler came to Arizona, he would inherit a defense with talent on the line and in the secondary, but with serious concerns at outside linebacker. He credited the Steelers for arming him with high-character linebackers through the draft, noting that it makes his job easier. Butler could not work for a more stable organization.
Butler also shot down reports suggesting the Steelers have put in writing a promise to name him their next defensive coordinator. Current coordinator Dick LeBeau is 73 years old and without a contract for next season. LeBeau has said he'll coach for the Steelers if he coaches next season.
If LeBeau does decide to return, Butler could conceivably have more incentive to consider an offer from Whisenhunt, provided the Steelers granted Arizona permission to interview him. NFL rules require teams to let assistants interview for head coaching positions. Teams do no have to let assistants interview at the coordinator level.
Assistants for Super Bowl teams are off-limits to other teams until after the game.
Whisenhunt and Butler became close friends when working on the Browns' staff in 1999. Once in Pittsburgh, they regularly golfed with LeBeau and current offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The four still debate which one won the most matches. According to Butler, winning a Super Bowl together cemented the bond.
"That doesn't mean he wouldn't fire me," Butler said of Whisenhunt. "That doesn't mean that at all. That doesn't mean I wouldn't fire him if I was in his shoes, either. He is a good friend of mine. Has been for a long time. We golf once a year in Hilton Head. I've been to Augusta with him once (to play Augusta National)."
The Cardinals fired defensive coordinator Bill Davis about three weeks ago. They have interviewed Miami Dolphins assistant head coach/secondary Todd Bowles. Whisenhunt has said he'd like to speak with assistants from both Super Bowl teams.
"Kenny has to do what he has to do," Butler said. "I do not want him to do anything that takes away from him being a great head coach at Arizona. I am under contract with the Steelers. I am not sure they will let me go. ...
"So, we'll see how it goes after everything pans out. As to whether I am going to be the defensive coordinator in Arizona or not, I have no idea. Kenny is not allowed to talk to me in terms of that situation until after the Super Bowl."