All along, the Steelers' next defensive coordinator was sitting in their own backyard.
And it's the least surprising news of the young 2015 year.
News broke Tuesday the Pittsburgh Steelers have hired their first defensive coordinator not named Dick LeBeau in 11 years. Keith Butler will assume the role vacated by Dick LeBeau, who announced his resignation earlier in the week. Butler, the team's linebackers coach since 2003, will oversee what's been a middling Steelers' defense over the last three seasons.
The Steelers' coaching staff reportedly has the week off, but will report back to the team next week to begin preparation on scouting the Senior Bowl, which will be played Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala.
Butler, a native of Alabama, worked with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin at the University of Memphis in 1996. From there, Butler coached at Arkansas State after that, and joined the Cleveland Browns as a linebackers coach in 1999. It's the same position he would hold for the next 15 NFL seasons.
He's long been considered LeBeau's eventual replacement, and considering the oddity of timing in LeBeau's departure, it suggests the decision was made to move on from LeBeau. The team's official stance was LeBeau resigned and they were surprised by his decision. LeBeau said he isn't retiring, and it was reported recently he had a discussion with the Arizona Cardinals about a job on the staff of the last Steelers coordinator to be removed, Bruce Arians.
The Steelers aren't expected to deviate from their 3-4 base defense, but Butler's success in coaching the Steelers' linebackers - key positions among this style of defense - suggests a refreshed focus on the position, especially considering the general lack of production the outside linebackers as a group have seen over the last few years. With third-year Jarvis Jones struggling with production and injuries in his first two years, and the likely departure of OLBs Jason Worilds and James Harrison, the Steelers are pretty much starting from scratch at the position. The team isn't likely to have a huge amount of cap space (projected to be roughly $5 million under before signing their 2015 draft class based on an estimated $140 million cap), so it would seem the production they're looking for will need to be found with an inexpensive free agent and draft picks.
The Steelers will select 22nd in the upcoming draft, and their last two first round picks (Jones and Ryan Shazier) were used on linebackers.