Luke Butkus can’t avoid the question.
Are you related to Dick Butkus?
The answer’s simple — yes, Dick is his uncle. But while Luke has the recognizable name and the family ties, he’s out to create his own identity.
And he’s well on his way to doing just that.
The nephew of legendary NFL linebacker Dick Butkus, Luke Butkus has seamlessly gone from football player to football coach, carrying the lessons he learned from his football-rich relatives while still carving out his own niche in the Butkus family.
“I took the approach that I’m my own player and my own guy,” said the 31-year-old Butkus, who’s in his first year as the Seahawks offensive quality control coach. “You get comparisons but you can’t avoid that — it’s impossible because of the type of player my uncle was.
“If I tried to live up to those expectations, I knew I’d fail, so I kind of paved my own path.”
What a path he’s paving.
Seahawks.com will feature the new coaches on Pete Carroll’s staff during the coming weeks:
Butkus was an All-Big Ten offensive lineman during his senior season at Illinois in 2001 before going on to try his hand in the NFL. Over three years, he was signed to a trio of teams, including San Diego, Chicago and Houston, along with playing two seasons in NFL Europe. He broke his leg during the 2003 NFL Europe season and then rehabbed to make a training camp roster with the Texans before getting cut and realizing his playing days were over.
“Obviously it didn’t work out as well as I had liked,” Butkus said of his playing career. “You realize the talent level, or lack of talent, catches up to you. I would’ve kept on playing forever if it was just me, but it wasn’t.”
Almost immediately, Butkus decided he wanted to stay involved with football by coaching. He sent out résumés to “just about every team in college football,” he said, hoping to nab a lower-level coaching job or graduate assistant position. The University of Oregon expressed interest, and the feelings were mutual.
“I met with them, interviewed and about a week later, I was flying into Oregon and starting right away,” Butkus said. “I had never been there before I started working.”
Butkus had his first job, and with it came a learning curve as he transitioned from player to coach.
“I’m always learning about schemes, but I had a good feel for that going in,” Butkus said. “It was more the technical gymnastics that I had to learn — computers, film, breakdowns, that kind of stuff.”
Butkus said the graduate assistant position with the Ducks also allowed him to “learn the game as a whole,” as he expanded his knowledge from just offensive line to the entire offense and beyond.
“You learn to appreciate the other aspects of the game as a coach,” Butkus said. “As a player, you came in, you worked out and you went home. As a coach, you understand the time and demands. It was a challenge, but it was fun. I learned a lot.”
After two years at Oregon, Butkus became a quality control coach for the Chicago Bears, where he worked for the last three seasons. The experience was positive in many regards for Butkus.
“It was great coaching for my hometown team and who I grew up rooting for,” Butkus said of the Bears, the same team his uncle Dick played for. “It was a step up from college. It was such a demand on your time. Everything has to be perfect. The attention to detail at every little step is amazing. There’s no cutting corners.”
His days in Chicago came to an end this January following the 2009 season. The job search started again for Butkus. Like many out-of-work coaches, Butkus went to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he schmoozed with the NFL personnel on hand to watch the college prospects. Butkus chatted with new Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates at a practice that week, and a day later, he got a phone call saying Bates and Coach Pete Carroll wanted to meet with him.
The phone call interrupted a dinner with some buddies, but it didn’t bother Butkus, who stormed out of the restaurant, borrowed a friend’s car and raced over to a hotel lobby to meet the two Seahawks coaches. Yet it was anything but a typical job interview.
“The interview with Coach and Jeremy was unbelievable,” Butkus said. “You’re so used to having these coat-and-tie interviews where everyone’s so uptight. But this was the total opposite.”
The interview obviously went well, and maybe it helped that Butkus was so rushed he didn’t have a chance to think about the magnitude of this opportunity.
“I didn’t have time to be nervous,” Butkus said. “I got there and didn’t really think; I just reacted.
“And they offered me the job that night.”Just like the interview was far from normal, so was the job offer itself. Ever the prankster, Carroll utilized some unnamed practical jokes to present the offensive quality control job to Butkus.
“I’m here now, so it’s all good,” Butkus said with a laugh.
To say the least, Butkus’ presence in Seattle has been well-received. He has teamed up with fellow offensive quality control coach Dave Canales to be the hardest working duo in the football office, while also being a valuable asset for offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, as he’s a perfect bridge between the players and the coach.
“Luke has been awesome for us,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “He’s an extremely dedicated worker and is on his way to some big things in his career.”
What will those big things be? Butkus admits that he’s “still young at this business,” but he hopes to be an offensive line coach, coordinator and head coach down the road.
But wherever his path takes him, Luke Butkus will continue to be his own man.
“I’d want to say, ‘this is where I’ll be when,’ but you can’t do that in this business,” Butkus said. “We’ll see where I go.”