EL DORADO — Troy Morrell’s office was just two doors down from Tim Schaffner’s at the Butler Community College football complex. After awhile, it seemed like those offices had been created for the two of them, somehow, in perpetuity.
Schaffner crammed the walls with pictures of Butler’s greatest players from his 10 years as defensive coordinator. He framed shots of himself celebrating national championships, Region VI championships and Jayhawk Conference championships. There were a lot of those.
Around his desk, he put pictures of his family. His players called his son, Brady, “Little Jimmy” when he was a toddler – the term of endearment for a new player on Butler’s defense coined by longtime assistant coach Steve Braet.
The office felt like a living thing. Everywhere you looked, there was a memory.
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Schaffner thought this was how it would always be.
“I was good where I was at,” he said. “Being a defensive coordinator for the rest of my career was just fine with me.”
But in the office where it seemed like Morrell would be forever, Schaffner received the news that changed his life. That was when Morrell, in the prime of his career, told Schaffner he was going to resign a few days before Christmas last year.
More than that, he told Schaffner he was getting out of coaching altogether. At 43. And after winning 12 Jayhawk titles, three NJCAA titles and pumping out Division I and NFL players every year.
“Like everybody else, my jaw hit the floor,” Schaffner said. “Blindsided me. I didn’t really know how to react, but pretty quickly I understood that I had some decisions to make.”
Those decisions have Schaffner in Morrell’s chair after Butler athletic director Todd Carter promoted him to head coach in January. He inherits a program in flux after two so-so years – by Butler standards – after the Grizzlies went 9-2 in 2013 and 8-3 in 2014.
Last season, Butler lost to both Coffeyville and Hutchinson for the first time since 1997.
“(Butler’s success) can be a double-edged sword,” Schaffner said. “Because let’s be real about it, 8-3 doesn’t fly here. (The fans) expect more, and so do we.”
Now, Butler finds itself in an odd place — playing catch-up where it probably shouldn’t be. Morrell’s exit, in large part, had to do with the Jayhawk Conference’s decision to move from 12 to 20 out-of-state players in 2013. Morrell was the most outspoken opponent of the rule.
After it went into place, Morrell still bucked back and didn’t dive in, even refusing to recruit out-of-state offensive linemen after the rule was approved, something Butler had done in the old system.
“It was kind of a dealbreaker for (Morrell), and I understand why,” Schaffner said. “He was a Kansas athlete, a Kansas offensive lineman. (The rule) diminshes the Kansas athletes’ role in the Jayhawk. But that’s just the way it is. We will still pride ourselves on playing with the best in-state guys, because that’s our heart and soul. That’s the way we won national titles.
“It was a dramatic change to the dynamic that was in place for 20 years around here. We have to figure out the new dynamic. The schools that were pushing for the rule change had plans in place. We didn’t, because we hadn’t thought about it. Now we have to think about it all the time.”
Schaffner’s resume is as impressive as any assistant coach in the nation. Under his watch, Butler produced three NJCAA Defensive Players of the Year — Michigan linebacker Austin Panter, Florida State defensive end Markus White and Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine —and six Region VI Defensive Players of the Year. Last season, Butler led the Jayhawk in scoring defense at 21 points.
“We’re still going to do the things we’ve done well,” Schaffner said. “We’re still going to have the same goals.”
Part of doing things the same way was Schaffner making sure he retained Braet, who has been at Butler for 35 seasons and has been an assistant coach on all six of Butler’s national title teams.
“I think, after I told my wife I was going after the job, I think (Braet) was next,” Schaffner said. “I needed to have him back.”
Now, there’s the business of actually putting together a team. Schaffner said there’s a three-way battle at quarterback between Oklahoma transfer Justice Hansen, Hinds Community College transfer Diantae Thomas and Bishop Carroll product Colton Howell, who led the Golden Eagles to the Class 5A title last aseason.
“It’s been close,” Schaffner said. “Diantae is a dual-threat quarterback, and I think whether he ends up as the starter or not, we need to find a place for him on the field. Colton has had a good camp ... he has great leadership skills and a live arm. He’s already making those decisions that have to be made in an instant.”
On defense, Butler has a potential star in Oklahoma State commit Tramal Ivy, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end who battled injuries most of last season.
“Morrell made such a mark on the program,” Schaffner said. “He had a real presence, and I like to think I learned a thing or two from him. We’re not saying we’re going to reinvent the wheel, we’re not saying there’s going to be a grand scheme to change things. We want to go out and do what we’ve always done.”