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Helping Hand

Posted Aug 25, 2011

Director of Player Development Jerry Butler helps Broncos players succeed off the field.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- From Head Coach John Fox to Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway to running back Willis McGahee, the Denver Broncos made many acquisitions in the offseason, adding a slew of talented and passionate personnel.

But don't look past another hire that could affect every player on the roster.

That would be Director of Player Development Jerry Butler. Butler came to Denver this year after working in the same role in Cleveland for the last 10 years, and a similar role in Buffalo before that. The former eight-year player, Butler - who made the Pro Bowl as a receiver for the Bills in 1980 - helps the current Broncos with off-the-field tasks from financing to counseling advice.

"He's one of those guys who has played the game before so he's almost like a coach, but not necessarily in that role where he gives you advice on technical things or schematic things," said quarterback Brady Quinn, who played in Cleveland during Butler's tenure. "But besides that, he's also a father and he can be that guy who you can lean on if you need to talk to someone."

Butler's office is right down the hall from the locker room at Dove Valley, and players can go to him for just about anything. He helps players with financial education, find jobs during the offseason, graduate college and pursue a career after football.

"From the start, with rookies, I tell them I'm on that ship as long as I'm this earth," Butler said. "They have to believe that and know they can pick up the phone and call me at any time. And trust me, they do."

Butler's interest in player development sparked when he was a player at Buffalo. His teammate, Reggie McKenzie, constantly talked about using the offseason to prepare for life after football. Butler didn't think much of it at the time, but one offseason McKenzie stayed at Butler's house.

"He was always getting up in the morning, putting his shirt and tie on, going out and doing internships," Butler said. "He was doing all these things and getting involved in the community. He was constantly teaching this message so I kind of had a mentor that I started looking at those things."

Butler's last season was in 1986, and shortly afterwards, he rejoined the Bills organization in a role that was relatively new to the NFL: player development. The General Manager at the time, John Butler (no relation), needed someone to manage it and handed it off to the former receiver.

"I thought it was a great fit for me with the way I cared about players," Butler said. "It kept you involved in their life off the football field and I thought that was a very important component to them being better athletes on the football field."

Butler works mostly with rookies coming into the league dealing with pressures and situations they've never faced before. However, he's there as a resource for everyone, whether they are a 12th-year veteran preparing for life after football, or a fourth-year player on the practice squad.

"Without a doubt I tell every player on the team that's he's a great resource, use him," Quinn said.  "That's what he was in Cleveland. Everyone went to him. He had a great rapport with the staff, organization and players. He was one of those guys you can hang around when times are bad and times are good."

However, Butler's interaction and relationship with a player doesn't stop when they leave the organization or retire. He estimates that he spends about 30 percent of his time working with former players as they try to finish their education or find a job. Butler helps them discover their interests (through various measures such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test), market themselves and apply to appropriate jobs.

"If you look at NFL Network, you look at the number of professional athletes that are doing commentary because they made a significant impact on their team and created a brand for themselves that is marketable -- but (the player) still has to do the work," Butler said. "That's what's great about professional athletes - they know the discipline, they know the teamwork, they don't take 'No' personally. They'll get up the next day and go again because that comes with winning and losing."

Being a former player is part of the reason why Butler has kept the same role through various organizations for 20 years. He understands what players are going through and it's the ability and opportunity to use his experience to make a positive influence in a player's life that keeps him coming back every year.

"It's just a passion for impact," Butler said. "I like to walk away and feel that I made some type of significant contribution to a player's life. I understand inside of the business, how that works, what role (the athletes) play. Not only that, but what responsibilities are they going to have to their family, their community. And help young men realize we're not here by chance. I think a lot of that is by design. Through that, you try to maximize every opportunity you can as an athlete."

One of the stories Butler immediately calls to mind when asked comes from his days in Cleveland. One of the players left college as a junior and had about 30 credit hours still to go before he could graduate. Butler found ways to help him take online classes, internships and even travel back to campus in the offseason to finish his degree. Three months after he graduated, he got cut.

"He came into my office and he says, 'You know what? I know this sounds stupid, but I want to thank you for pushing me. Not to be a better athlete - to finish my degree. Because now I feel more confident about leaving out that door than I did coming through that door,'" Butler said. "And to me, I'll never forget that. In that point in time, I realized that's my trophies on the wall. They say, 'To give a man money, you're giving him part of your finances. But when you give him your time, you're giving him a part of your life.'"

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