Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Warned Against Making ‘Same Mistake’ With Next DC

Getty Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

For the first time in decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers are about to undergo a massive overhaul on both sides of the ball. Their future Hall of Fame quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is (apparently) hanging up his cleats, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler announced his retirement on January 22.

The Steelers needing to find a new offensive identity is one thing, but Butler leaving the organization isn’t expected to change things much.


Keith Butler didn’t call defensive plays. Despite the fancy defensive coordinator title, Butler was never more than a glorified linebackers coach. According to NFL reporter Aditi Kinkahbwala, it’s been that way since 2015.

“Keith Butler has never designed or called a defense in the entire time he has been the defensive coordinator,” Kinkhabwala told Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan Morning Show in November 2021.

Butler confirmed as much during a January 24 post-retirement interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “I would have liked to [call plays] myself, sure I would,” Butler said. “I think everybody would. But Mike [Tomlin] is the head coach. He can do what he wants to do.”

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Butler came to the Pittsburgh Steelers from the Cleveland Browns in 2003 and served as linebackers coach through 2014. When legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau left Pittsburgh for the Tennessee Titans in 2015, they hired from within and promoted Butler as the Steelers traditionally do.

Steelers Defensive Shot-Caller

But it was Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, not Butler, who called the shots.

“[Tomlin] wants to be the guy controlling everything,” said The Fan Morning Show co-host Chris Mack. “He wants to be that for every single guy in the locker room up to and including ‘I want to call the plays on game day.’”

“Which then would lend to the notion . . . that I just want yes men around me, I want to be in charge, I don’t want anybody to have more influence than me, and I want to make sure that I’m in control of everything,” The Fan’s Colin Dunlap said of Tomlin.

Plenty of NFL head coaches calls either the offense or the defense, depending on their specialty. And Tomlin was hired by the Steelers thanks, in part, to his defensive acumen. Tomlin served as defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2001-2005. His top-ranked unit intercepted quarterbacks a whopping 15 times, per Pro Football Reference, on the team’s way to winning the 2002 Super Bowl.

In 2006, Tomlin was hired to run the defense for the Minnesota Vikings, where the unit ranked 14th in points allowed and eighth in yards allowed. The following year, in 2007, the Steelers hired Tomlin away to become head coach in Pittsburgh.

In his January 24 column for the Post-Gazette, Ron Cook suggested that Tomlin underutilized the talents of Keith Butler. “Tomlin can’t make that same mistake with his next coordinator,” wrote Cook.

Steelers Next ‘Defensive Coordinator’

Several reports have indicated that the Pittsburgh Steelers will, once again, promote from within to replace Butler. Defensive-coordinator-in-waiting Teryl Austin was hired as the team’s defensive backs coach in 2019.

Per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the Steelers requested to interview New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. More than likely, though, it’s just a formality. NFL policy states that teams must interview two external minority candidates for general manager and coordinator roles.

But don’t expect whoever takes over to have any more power than Butler did. Steelers insider Ray Fittipaldo told The Fan to “not expect Mike Tomlin to hand over defensive play-calling duties to the next defensive coordinator.”

Tomlin has called the defense for the past six seasons (Butler indicated it’s been longer than that), so why would it change now?

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M Leightle
M Leightle
1 year ago

Look, I dunno how or why this guy gets to stick around Pittsburgh as long as he has, 15 years? the last 8 almost too painful to watch….the execution on the field is just bad, defense, offense, tackling, blocking, and then you hear he doesn’t trust his own coaches to deliver and Tomlin’s delivery ends up being as poor as we see? I mean, sounds like a clown show to me, and i don’t care what anyone says about winning seasons, they haven’t looked like winners since they beat Arizona in the super bowl 12 years ago

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