With the Feb. 1 national signing day less than 2 weeks away, Butler and six fellow newbies - defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden are holdovers from Joe Paterno's veteran group - find themselves pitching the virtues of the Nittany Lions' rich history of success as well as the chance to be a part of something fresh and different.
It is a delicate balancing act for Butler, the Nittany Lions' new secondary coach. But then Butler, the La Salle High graduate who is returning to his home state and a university he never attended but loved nonetheless, is up for any and all challenges. He believes in himself, he believes in his new boss and he believes that past, present and future in Happy Valley can mingle in such a way that preserves the finest while adding the excitement that often comes with charting a new course.
And all Butler and O'Brien's other new hires need to do is to pull this off while working under the cloud of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal and any lingering resentment among Penn State alumni and supporters over the way Paterno and interim coach Tom Bradley were kicked to the curb. Interestingly, O'Brien, for now the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriot, is unable to devote his full attention to his Penn State duties until the Pats are eliminated from playoff contention. That leaves O'Brien's hastily assembled staff to do most of the heavy lifting.
"To say it's not going to be a challenge would be totally ignorant on my part," Butler acknowledged. "We understand the challenges. It's very apparent there are obstacles we're going to have to overcome. But you either run from challenges or you accept them. Coach O'Brien's hires, myself included, consider Penn State to be one of the crown jewels of college football. For us to be a part of the healing process represents a great opportunity."
Butler comes to Penn State from the University of South Carolina, where he was a member of Steve Spurrier's staff last season as special-teams coordinator, as well as assisting with the linebackers. But even though the Gamecocks finished 11-2 in 2011 and ranked ninth in the final Associated Press poll, Penn State was a place he always wanted to be, going back to his childhood in Oreland.
"Where I grew up, you were either a Penn State fan or a Notre Dame fan," said Butler, who played football and basketball at Division III Catholic University in Washington, D.C. "Some people were for both schools, but I was always a big-time Penn State fan. I have great admiration for everything that's been accomplished there, on the field and off."
Those feelings never really abated as Butler, 38, embarked on a coaching career that took him from a graduate assistant's stint at Texas to jobs at Midwestern State, Texas State, Harvard and Minnesota. While with the Golden Gophers, he worked with Ted Roof, whom O'Brien is bringing in to serve as defensive coordinator.
"I came highly recommended to Bill [by Roof]," Butler said. "Bill knows what he wanted and I think I share the same characteristics that he does in terms of his own coaching career and as well as what he's like as a person."
Now, about those challenges . . .
In taking over as secondary coach, Butler will have to replace four senior starters whose eligibility expired with the TicketCity Bowl loss to Houston. For now, though, his immediate task is to make himself known to recruits and to gain their confidence. Oh, and he had better do it pretty darn quick.
"They need to get to know [the new coaches] as people," Butler said. "In this business, you win with people. You don't win with buildings or stadiums. You win by having great people in your program.
"It's going to take a really strong 2 weeks of talking to these kids for them to get to know us and feel comfortable with us. Some kids might decide to go elsewhere at this time, but what we're going to do the day after national signing day is to start recruiting for next year. I'm confident that if we get our message out, we'll have a good recruiting class this year and great recruiting classes in the years to come."
Nyeem Wartman, a linebacker from Valley View, has recommitted to Penn State, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune. Wartman committed to Penn State in July and then reopned his recruitment after the scandal. Wartman was said to be considering Rutgers.