John Butler

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A tough, sometimes gruff ex-Marine and Vietnam vet, John Butler was also known to have a soft spot in his heart along with an incredible ability to judge football talent.

Butler was born in Chicago, Illinois, August 13, 1946. He attended high school in Urbana, Illinois, immediately signing up for the Marines after graduation. Butler served four years in the Marines, including a stint in Vietnam where he saw combat in 1965. After serving his country, Butler attended San Bernardino Junior College before transferring to the University of Illinois, where he played one season for the Illini at guard before a knee injury ended his playing career.

His coaching career began in 1979 as an assistant at the University of Evansville. After that it was on to the pros where his connection with Buffalo began. Butler was hired in 1982 by the Chicago Blitz of the USFL where he would work with George and Bruce Allen, Bill Polian, and another native Chicagoan, Marv Levy.

After the USFL folded, Butler would make his way to the NFL where he became a scout for the San Diego Chargers in 1985. In 1987, his connection to Marv Levy and Bill Polian would bring him to Buffalo, this time as Director of College Scouting. He would be promoted by the Bills to Director of Player Personnel in 1989.

This is where John Butler’s keen eye for evaluating talent would come into play. He’s credited for convincing Marv Levy to take a shot at a running back out of Oklahoma State University whom other teams were passing on due to concerns about a knee injury. That running back, Thurman Thomas, would eventually become the Buffalo Bills all-time rushing leader.

Butler was also known for finding diamonds in the rough out of small colleges. Don Beebe out of Chadron State, Alabama A&M’s Howard Ballard, and Phil Hansen from North Dakota State all played key roles in the Buffalo Bills success of the early 1990s.

In 1993 he would replace Bill Polian as general manager of the Buffalo Bills where he would serve in that capacity until 2000. The Bills went to the playoffs in five of his eight seasons as general manager and drafted many future starters, including Ruben Brown, Eric Moulds, Sam Cowart, Peerless Price and Antoine Winfield, just to list a few. During this time, the Bills also signed Doug Flutie in 1998, which brough some excitement back to a franchise that seemed to be on a downward turn since the Super Bowl years.

The Bills needed to sell $11 million worth of luxury boxes and club seats to guarantee the team stay in Buffalo for five more years. Butler’s signing of Flutie brought new energy to the fan base as the Bills easily surpassed the ticket sales goal.

After his tenure in Buffalo ended in 2000, John Butler headed to where it all started, San Diego, to become the General Manager of the Chargers. He was not forgotten in Buffalo however as during his fourteen-year tenure, the Bills went to the playoffs 10 times, the Super Bowl four times, and had a 140-83 record.

John Butler passed away in April of 2003 as a result of complications from lung cancer.