Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Retiring Butler ready for life's next chapter

Mary Vinson
Posted

Dwight Butler recalled lying in a hospital bed last year and taking the proverbial look at his life. It was then he decided it was time to turn the page to the next chapter in the book of his life, which he said is far from finished.

Of course, it was, admittedly, close to being finished when he spent two-and-a-half months in a hospital after a motorcycle accident. This was on the heels of a couple years going to the hospital with a bleeding lung after another motorcycle mishap.

“When you’re basically dead on the table you think about a lot of things,” Butler said. “I thought, ‘I’m not getting out of here.’”

But he did get out of there. Now, at age 69, he’s leaving a profession he’s been in for almost five decades, the last phase serving as athletic director for the Granbury Independent School District since 2005.

“It puts a perspective on life, what’s important, and while I have loved what I’ve done here and in my career, there’s a lot more I want to do,” he said. “I’ve done this for 46 years and that’s enough.”

GROWING UP/STARTING FOOTBALL

Butler grew up in a variety of places, or “all over” as he put it. One of the most impressionable places was the Navaho Reservation in Crownpoint, New Mexico.

It was where his love of sports developed.

“I went there in the eighth grade and you had no choice, you played everything,” he recalled.

But it was in Artesia, New Mexico, where he became a football standout. However, it wasn’t originally his own choosing as he was more connected to basketball.

“I wasn’t going to play football at all. I was a Pete Maravich disciple,” he recalled. “I wore those socks that were baggy. I would have worn my hair like him, but dad wouldn’t let me.”

But Artesia is known for its football success, having won its 32nd state championship in 2023. Butler was not only one of his team’s best players, but also one of the best in the state as a middle linebacker and tight end.

“It was like being in Texas,” he said. “That’s where most of our coaches were from.”

It was the start down a road he’d travel for many years — with a detour or two.

LIFE LESSONS

“The main thing I learned in life, and I said it at my father’s funeral, is to let me fail. You learn from failure,” Butler said. “A lot of people don’t get that anymore. We live in a society where failure is not an option.

“If everything was constantly good, what would we ever learn from life?”

Butler did learn and applied those lessons to his career, one that included a lot of victories as a coach and leadership of young people throughout his numerous stops.

Before that success, however, came one of his toughest lessons. He went to work in the oil field on a rig.

The money was good, of course, but Butler learned the hard way it was not the life for him.

“I asked myself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” he said. “I quit and went back to school.”

Then, he added with a laugh, “If I’d worked in the oil field my whole life I’d probably be a millionaire by now. Some of my friends are.”

CAREER STOPS

Butler’s coaching career began as an assistant at Hobbs High School in New Mexico from 1973-80. Then, he found his way to Texas and Monahans from 1980-83 and Abilene Cooper in 1983-84.

He returned to New Mexico as defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Artesia, from 1984-86, before returning to Texas for good. His first stop in his return to the Lone Star State was as DC at Levelland from 1986-88.

Then, he landed in Big Spring, where it seemed he would spend the rest of his career. After being DC from 1988-90 he became a head coach for the first time and enjoyed much success at the helm from 1990-2004.

But don’t ask him what his career record is because he simply doesn’t know — but suffice it to say he won a lot more games than he lost.

“I really have no idea how many games I’ve won,” he said. “The main thing is to try to make sure you give young people a chance to be proud citizens as adults.”

COMING TO GRANBURY

In high school, Butler became friends with the late former Granbury football coach Mike Lebby when their teams played each other at the New Mexico State Basketball Tournament. They also faced off in the state’s high school football all-star game.

“He was one of the three best friends I had in this world,” Butler said, pausing a second emotionally. “I miss him greatly.”

When Granbury’s athletic director position came open, Lebby, who had moved on to coach at Saginaw, recommended Butler for the job. Butler said he was happy at Big Spring and hadn’t thought about leaving, but the call from his good friend got him to consider a change.

“I was a head coach at Big Spring, a low socio-economic community. I never took a holiday. I invested everything in those kids,” he said. “My two boys played for me.

“But I was emotionally spent. I would have probably stayed, but Mike called, and after I got here I realized how burned out I was. It just felt like it was time for a different challenge.”

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So Butler gave up coaching football and decided to focus solely on being an athletic director for the final two decades of his career. During his tenure at Granbury, the school’s athletic programs enjoyed solid success.

Of course, the girls basketball program had long been renowned with Leta Andrews, the winningest hoops coach on the planet. Other sports, such as baseball, golf and soccer had also enjoyed success.

Under Butler, all sports had a moment in the spotlight. Most notably, the football program that hadn’t reached the playoffs since the late 1970s made four straight postseason appearances under now former coach Scottie Pugh — one of Butler’s first hires.

“What I’m most proud of is every sport we were in the playoffs multiple times. It’s the people you bring in to head those programs,” he said.

THE BIGGEST LOSS OF ALL

Several years ago Butler’s brother, Keith, was killed in Afghanistan. He was on a mission as a CIA operative.

“He was my hero. They called him Pops,” Butler said, his voice reflecting great respect. “He was a great guy, a great patriot. He was a great example for me and anyone who knew him.”

Butler said Keith was a lifelong military man who joined the Marines right out of high school. Like his brother, Keith also loved riding motorcycles.

“He had a Harley and we were just going riding together,” Butler said. “He was on his last trip for the military.”

Butler regularly visits his brother’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

REFLECTING

As he looks back on the sunset of his career, Butler said there are many memories — mostly positive — he will carry with him. What he will miss most, he said, are the relationships he built with coaches and players.

“Being around kids keeps you young,” he said. “When you’re a coach there’s a special unspoken bond.”

The biggest challenge and what he will miss the least, he said, is some parents overstepping their bounds.

“I’m not against it (parents being involved), but you need the right kind of parents. I’m all for that, the positive kind,” he said. “Enjoy what your kids are doing. Don’t try to make them into an All-American.

“This is a time when kids are creating memories for the rest of their lives. Let them have fun and do that.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Butler is finished riding his Harley Road King, or any motorcycle, he said.

“That’s what I was going to do in retirement. Now, I’m going to learn to play golf again,” he said with a smile.

He said he’ll spend more time with family, which includes his oldest son Bowe, a human resources representative in Charleston, South Carolina, and his youngest, Tye, who is in the insurance, oil and cattle business in Artesia.

He and his wife, Kathy, who is the business manager for the GISD, have five grandchildren — three from Bowe and two from Tye.

And he’s about to face a new challenge in his life — what to do with some spare time.

“I’m going to have to do something,” he said, chuckling. “I’ve never taken a summer off.”