In a recent “ChatRewind” piece, ESPN.com’s “AFC North Blogger/Baltimore Ravens fanboy” Jamison Hensley shared his belief that Pittsburgh’s long-time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will retire either after the 2013 or 2014 season.
Hensley alluded to the team’s decision to keep long-time linebackers coach Keith Butler on staff as a “defensive coordinator-in-waiting” as one of the reasons why LeBeau’s time in Pittsburgh is nearing its end.
Although Butler is considered by many to be the “coordinator-in-waiting,” I still question what would occur in the following scenarios:
- What if the Hall of Fame cornerback and defensive coordinator does not show any signs of stopping and continues to coach over the next few seasons?
- Will one or more of Pittsburgh’s successful defensive assistants, like Butler or defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, leave town for a defensive coordinator gig of their own if LeBeau continues to coach?
As I stated before, Butler has appeared to be the odds-on-favorite to take over for LeBeau once he retires. In fact, I believe that his success as the team’s linebackers coach since 2003 should make him the front-runner. The biggest question I have with Butler though surrounds how long he will continue to wait behind LeBeau.
It is not like Butler is an unknown quantity among NFL coaching circles. In fact, Butler has been highly sought after for numerous defensive coordinator positions over the last half decade or so.
After the 2009 season, he turned down the defensive coordinator job with the Dolphins. When he was the head coach in Arizona from 2007-2012, Ken Wisenhunt tried to lure Butler away from Pittsburgh on multiple occasions. Then as recently as last year, the Colts, coached by his former colleagues Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians, offered him their defensive coordinator job.
I will not say that Butler has been strung along during the last few years in Pittsburgh, but I am sure that every defensive coordinator gig he has turned down has been no picnic for the long-time linebackers coach. The Steelers’ brass apparently agreed to a new contract with Butler after he was offered the job in Indianapolis, but one has to wonder how much longer he is willing to wait.
Butler however is not the only one of Pittsburgh’s defensive coaches who is sure to field more coordinator offers over the coming years. In fact, I would not be shocked to see franchises around the league kick the tires on Carnell Lake when this year ends.
I will admit that I was nervous to see who the Steelers would hire to replace Ray Horton when he left after the 2010 season. Thankfully, the Rooney’s found one of the most underrated defensive backs in franchise history to take over for Horton in the form of Lake. As solid as Lake was as a player, he has been just as solid of a coach, particularly with some of the team’s younger players.
Lake worked wonders with Keenan Lewis in 2011 and 2012, William Gay back in 2011, and now he has Cortez Allen primed to be one of the league’s better young cornerbacks. If Pittsburgh’s secondary plays well this year and Lake can help to turn things around for another struggling youngster like Curtis Brown, defensive coordinator-needy teams around the league are sure to take notice.
Lake will be 46 years old in July, and his best days of coaching are sure to be ahead of him. His background in Pittsburgh as a player and a coach will only make him more attractive to teams in need of defensive coordinators over the next few seasons if he continues to succeed. Moreover, if Butler takes over for LeBeau, the likelihood of Lake bolting for a coordinator opportunity will skyrocket unless he stays in Pittsburgh as a position coach long-term like John Mitchell has for the last two decades.
As one of the best defensive coordinators in league history, LeBeau can probably call it quits whenever he wants to do so. Thus, the decision of when the Steelers look for a new defensive coordinator will be up to him and nobody else. When LeBeau eventually calls it quits though will have an enormous impact on this franchise. My hope is that the Steelers will have at least Butler or Lake to take over for the Hall of Fame coordinator once he retires.
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