Q&A: Craig Butler on why he retired, his new role and winning a Grey Cup

Hamilton Tiger-Cats and former Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Craig Butler retired on Saturday after seven CFL seasons. I talked to him about the decision to retire, his new role as a coach and the highlight of his career.

Drew Edwards: How did you come to this decision?

Craig Butler: Well, I was approached on Saturday by a few members of the staff about what the situation was going to be moving forward as far as me playing and how they saw me fit into the organization. They expressed how much I mean to them not only as a football player but as a person and they came with this offer. It wasn’t an easy decision, it took some time. I had to make a few calls, talk to my wife because at the end of the day it’s not just about me but it’s about what’s best for family. It’s also about what’s best for my health. Obviously, it’s never an easy decision when you walk away but we’re a part of a great organization that’s run by great people. If the people that run this team ran a Tim Hortons, I’d want to work at Tim Hortons. They’re good people and you want to be in business with good people. That made the decision a little easier.

DE: How do you feel physically? Did you feel you could still play?

CB: That’s a loaded question because if you ask any player who’s freshly retired, they’d say they feel like they can still play. You ask any player, in any sport, that loves the game as much as I did, they’d say they still want to play even if they’ve only got one leg. But your brain can tell you one thing while your body is saying another. I know I wasn’t the same player, a guy who was an all-star and helping this team to Grey Cup appearances.  I was working my ass off every single day to become that guy and I didn’t have any doubt that I could become that guy again but sometimes the odds are stacked against you. Climbing that wall, you think it’s not as high as it is but you get to one level and there’s ten more levels to climb. It’s one of the harder decisions that I’ve had to make in my life but I know it’s the right one.

DE: You played 11 games on a partially torn ACL in 2015. In retrospect…

CB: [Laughs] It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But I wouldn’t change it for anything because I put the team first and that’s how I’ve always been. I always considered myself a selfless player. You can always say ‘what if?’ but I wouldn’t change anything.

DE: What does Craig Butler the coach bring to the table?

CB: I bring the same things I did as a player. I’m obviously going to have to tone down my aggressiveness a little bit: I’m not going to be the office linebacker, taking guys heads off in the hallway. I’m just going to be passionate about the game. It’s obviously going to be a different dynamic but I told guys that I want to keep the personal relationships that I’ve established. I love the game and I’m going to be the same person but it’s just going to be running shoes instead of cleats. I’ll do whatever I can do to help this team.

DE: What are some of the highlights of your career? You’ve got a Grey Cup ring…

CB: Winning the Grey Cup is up there and for more reasons than just football. I was lucky enough to have my family out there to watch me and I got to party with my mom [who has since passed away] and my dad after I won a Grey Cup. It’s not just my name that’s on that trophy, it’s my mom’s name, my Dad’s name, my brother’s name, my sister’s name – it’s my family’s name. Right behind that is the day I signed here. I met a lot of great people, I’ve grown as a person and now I’ve been given this opportunity.

DE: Will you ever consider playing again? You’re only 28.

CB: I can’t really answer that question right now. This is all pretty new. I was on the practice field as a player on Friday with the mindset that I was playing the game this week so it’s too soon to answer that. I’m going to stay in the best shape that I possibly can because that’s the way I am, it’s the way I let off steam. Every athlete thinks they can still play and I still have that in me, somewhere. But I’m going to handle all this as it comes and learn from the great people that are around me.

DE: Is coaching what you want to do long-term?

CB: I think that’s what this season will be about, to see if I want to do this. I know I love football, that’s a given. But playing and coaching are very different – coaching is a lot more work, not physically, but mentally. We have a great staff and I’m excited to learn and I think this is something that I want to do but I have to take one day a time.

DE: Is there anything you’d like to say?

CB: I haven’t had time to thank everybody that’s supported me over the years – fans, players, coaches, media – and I need to do that. I know there have been people who have always believed in me and I need to thank them. Thank you to the city of Regina, thank you to the city of Hamilton. It’s a long list but I’m very grateful. Hopefully, this isn’t the last you’ll hear of Craig Butler.

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