By Tim Graham
Jack Butler was great enough as a defensive back to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Butler was a four-time Pro Bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was voted all-NFL three times and was one of two defensive halfbacks on the NFL's all-decade team for the 1950s.
The St. Bonaventure alum played on only two winning teams and never appeared in the postseason, but -- for a franchise loaded with Super Bowl champion defensive stars -- Butler was one of only 16 defensive players to make the Steelers' 75th anniversary team of 2007.
Yet when I asked Buffalo Bills assistant general manager Doug Whaley if Butler made a bigger impact on the game as a player or a scout, the answer wasn't easy.
Whaley whistled while mulling the question.
"I'd say as a scout," said Whaley, a Pittsburgh native who came from the Steelers organization.
Butler, 85, died this morning in Pittsburgh from heart failure. He also had been battling a staph infection in his left leg since November, son John Butler told The Buffalo News.
Butler was executive director of BLESTO, an influential co-op scouting service founded in the 1960s. It stood for the Bears, Lions, Eagles, Steelers Talent Organization. The office was located on Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh and became the proving grounds for future NFL scouts and executives.
Among those Butler mentored were Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, Steelers college scouting director Ron Hughes, Saints college scouting director Rick Reiprish, former Bills president Tom Donahoe, former Bills college scouting chief Tom Modrak and former Steelers and Jets personnel director Dick Haley.
"What he would do is get local high school coaches to come in as interns and teach them about scouting," Whaley said. "He harvested a lot of the scouts of today. There's a major contingent of former Pittsburgh high school coaches that came up through BLESTO and went on to prominence."
Butler intercepted 52 passes for the Steelers. That was second all-time when he retired and ranks 26th today, even though seasons lasted only 12 games back then. He had 10 interceptions in 1957, when teams threw 23 times a game. Nobody has intercepted more than 10 passes in a season since 1981.
As fantastic as his play was on the field, his presence will be felt longer in front offices around the league than on grainy NFL footage.
"If you look at Jack Butler's tree, it's still reaching out farther today," Whaley said. "I could say I'm one of those branches because I started under Tom Donahoe and cut my teeth under Kevin Colbert.
"His impact lives on. He's one of the forefathers of this business."
taggedDoug Whaley | Jack Butler | Tom Donahoe | Tom Modrak