Craig Butler chooses family over coaching career with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Photo courtesy: Ryan McCullough/Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Craig Butler chose not to return as an assistant coach with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2023 and though his departure wasn’t announced until this week, the club has been aware of his impending departure since January.

“The decision was obviously not an easy one,” Butler told 3DownNation via telephone. “It was one that was thought about long and hard about but ultimately for my family and for myself, it was time to take a little bit of a step back from football and shift my focus back onto what matters most to me and that’s not just my kids and my wife but my extended family and everybody that I feel like I need to be supporting.”

The 34-year-old took on the role of special teams coordinator with the Ticats in 2022 and his units were among the best in the league. Hamilton finished first league-wide in opponent punt return average and third in punt return average, kickoff return average, and opponent kickoff return average. The club was also one of only two in the CFL not to allow a return touchdown all season.

Butler credits Jeff Reinebold and Dennis McKnight among other coaches under whom he previously served to help him become ready for the role.

“I loved it. I loved the added responsibility, I really wanted it. [Head coach Orlondo Steinauer] gave me the opportunity to make it my own. As much as I was young and still learning as one of the younger coordinators in the league, he gave me a lot of freedom. He wasn’t too concerned if we made a mistake, he just hoped that we learned from it,” said Butler.

“It was a great opportunity, great experience. It added to my growth professionally and personally. The players were what made it special because the guys that were in that room, the guys that were your core special teamers who really loved it, being able to give them a reason every day to wake up and be excited to come to work was got me excited to come to work, too.”

Butler lived in Hamilton for many years as he transitioned from the role of player to coach, though he and his family have since moved to his hometown on London, Ont. He declined to provide details regarding any challenges facing his immediate or extended family, though he indicated that he, his wife, and two young children are in good health.

He is hopeful that he could learn to strike a better work-life balance in the future, noting that a number of his colleagues have raised children and enjoyed long, successful marriages while coaching at the professional level. For now, he wants more of his focus to be on his family.

“When I’m invested into something, I’m 100 percent in. I think that’s the only way you can be successful in this business and I think it was getting to the point where as much as I was 100 percent in when I was at the stadium at work, I knew sometimes when I would leave the stadium, my mind would be elsewhere,” said Butler.

“I didn’t want to be not giving the players and the coaches the best opportunity to be the best versions of themselves if I couldn’t be that best version of myself. Football’s never going to be out of my life. Right now, it’s a time to take a step back and see a different perspective but the door is definitely not closed for the rest of my life, that’s for sure.”

Butler signed with the Ticats in 2014 following a three-year run with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was named an East Division all-star in back-to-back years with the club before transitioning into a coaching role in 2017 after his career was derailed by injuries. He spoke glowingly about his time with the organization.

“One word to describe would be unbelievable. I think the culture around Hamilton even before [Steinauer] took over as the head coach and I was a player there, it was almost the standard of what you wanted for professional football in the CFL as far as how you were treated and the facilities,” he said.

“It was a top-notch experience, professional, always very understandable. You couldn’t ask for a better support system professionally and it was something that helped me grow professionally and personally. No regrets at all with any year or any season or anything that I experienced with Hamilton. Everything was better than I could have expected and more than I could have expected for myself and my family.”

Butler is currently pursuing a number of professional opportunities, some of which are football-related and some of which aren’t. He is open to coaching again in the future either at the professional of amateur level.

“If there’s something down the road this season or next season or a year or two from now, I’m always going to listen as long as it makes sense for my family. At this point, I’m going to do a do what’s best for them. I would always look at an opportunity with Western or another U Sports school but right now it’s just about putting the main thing as the main thing and right now, the main thing for me is family.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.