Oreland native Butler not reluctant about joining Penn State staff

Posted: January 19, 2012

John Butler's most vivid memory of Penn State football growing up in Montgomery County was the Fiesta Bowl on January 2, 1987, when he watched on television as the Nittany Lions defeated favored Miami and won the 1986 national championship.

Now after 15 years of coaching college football, Butler has returned to his home state and the team he followed in his younger years. He is the new secondary coach of the Nittany Lions, having been hired last week by head coach Bill O'Brien, the successor to Joe Paterno.

Butler, 38, who grew up in Oreland and played football, basketball and baseball at La Salle High School before graduating in 1991, was a life-long friend of Keith Conlin, one of three brothers to play at Penn State. Conlin's older brother, Chris, was an All-American offensive tackle on the 1986 national championship team.

"I was at their house all the time, and you weren't allowed to be anything but a Penn State fan," Butler said Thursday from his office at Penn State. "So I was happily a Penn State fan. Through our high school years, we probably watched that game 50 times. If we weren't watching a movie, we were watching that game."

Butler, who played his college ball at Division III Catholic University, said he always enjoyed watching Penn State football and the characteristics that made the program so successful.

"When you turned a Penn State game on, it was no frills," he said. "It was all about just playing at a high level and playing hard and being physical and just competing like crazy. When you watched a Penn State team, you knew they were going to be well-coached. You knew you were going to have to beat Penn State. They weren't going to beat themselves."

Butler came to Penn State from South Carolina, where he spent one season as special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach. Other stops for Butler included Minnesota, Harvard, Texas State, Midwestern State and Texas, where he coached for two seasons as a graduate assistant.

The announcement of O'Brien's hiring on Jan. 7 meant that the head coach had to gather a coaching staff right away to keep up with recruiting.

Butler, who worked with new defensive coordinator Ted Roof at Minnesota, said he got a call from O'Brien last week, talked it over with his wife, accepted the job and flew to State College on Friday. He was part of last weekend's activities that saw at least 10 high school recruits visit the campus. He then went on the road on Monday, visiting five cities in two days.

Butler said he had no reluctance about coming to Penn State, which had been rocked following the indictment of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on child sex abuse charges. The scandal resulted in the Nov. 9 firing of Paterno and left high school players who committed to the Nittany Lions wondering if they should go elsewhere.

"People ask legitimate questions," Butler said. "They want to know what the facts are. They're overwhelmed with information that's out there that is inaccurate. I think they just want to understand what is going on, what we know and how Penn State plans to move forward. That's the biggest thing."

With mostly new coaches meeting players who were recruited by coaches no longer employed by Penn State, Butler said the challenge is to tell players "on what we are about as a coaching staff and as a football program, not necessarily dwelling on or lingering in the past."

"We do our best to educate ourselves to educate our recruits, and understand that a lot of the stuff that's out there is not a Penn State football program, not at all," he said. "It was a problem in dealing with an outside issue that just happened to attach itself to Penn State football because of our name."

Butler, whose parents continue to live in Montgomery County, said he hopes to move his wife and his 11-month-old son to Penn State by the time national signing day arrives on Feb. 1.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494, jjuliano@phillynews.com, or @joejulesinq on Twitter. Read his blog, "Lion Eyes," at www.philly.com/lioneyes

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