The great Bombers
football coach Jim Butterfield passes away at 74
by Tom Fleischman
Jim Butterfield, the architect of three
NCAA Division III championships and 206 victories in 27 years as
head football coach at Ithaca College died in Ithaca on November
26, 2002, four days shy of his 75th birthday.
Butterfield in 1992 during the game against Montclair State during
which South Hill Field was renamed Butterfield Stadium
Patricia Reynolds Photography
Butterfield, the coach with the most wins in Bombers football
history and a 1997 inductee into the College Football Association
Hall of Fame, died from complications related to Alzheimer's disease,
with which he had lived for nine years.
In addition to his wife of 47 years, Lois,
Butterfield is survived by a son, Terry, daughters Kristen and
Gail, and six grandchildren.
Butterfield also leaves behind scores of former players, coaching
adversaries, and compatriots who were touched by the man affectionately
known as "Butts."
"Having played for him and going into my profession, he gave me
the ingredients I needed to be successful," says Mike Welch '73,
a running back and team captain at Ithaca in the early 1970s who
became an assistant under Butterfield in 1983 and then his successor
"Where to start, what adjectives to use?" says
Jerry Boyes '76, M.S. '81, who played for Butterfield in the
to his alma mater as an assistant coach under Butterfield, then
left in 1986 and built a fledgling Buffalo State College
football program into an NCAA playoff team before stepping down
two years ago. "Jim was my head coach, my mentor, he was a dear
friend," Boyes says. "He was a tremendous influence on how I do
everything, in my professional and personal life. The
class of Jim Butterfield, the integrity of Jim Butterfield: I don't
know of anybody else who comes close."
"To me, he epitomized what football coaches and real people are
all about," says Tim Pendergast, M.S. '86, who was a graduate assistant
at IC under Butterfield in 1980 and now coaches football at Cornell
University. "People who learned from Jim dot the coaching ranks
from the pro level to Pop Warner and every level in between. This
is a gentleman who will be terribly missed."
Born in Tampa, Florida, on November 30, 1927, and raised in Massachusetts,
Philip James Butterfield served in the navy and graduated in 1953
from the University of Maine with a bachelor's degree in physical
education. An offensive guard on the university football team,
he was inducted into the University of Maine Athletic Hall of Fame
in 1989, along with his late brother, Jack.
Butterfield coached football for 41 seasons, first at the Arms
Academy in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, where he compiled a
two-year record of 11-4. He returned to the University of Maine,
where he was line coach from 1956 to 1960, then spent seven years
as an assistant coach at Colgate University.
Butterfield began his Ithaca College coaching career on March
24, 1967, when he took over for Dick Lyon. His first Ithaca team
finished 4-4. The 1968 and '69 squads were Butterfield's only two
losing teams (both finished 3-5); IC bounced back to finish 4-4
After that, his teams were all winners -- 23 consecutive seasons,
one of the longest streaks in the NCAA in any division. Butterfield's
teams appeared in 29 NCAA Division III playoff games, posting a
21-8 record. Both were Division III records at the time of his
Butterfield is all smiles after Ithaca
College's 1988 Stagg Bowl win.
Photo by Andres Alonso
Ithaca won its first of three national titles in 1979, defeating
Wittenberg College 14-10 in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. Other titles
came in 1988 and in 1991. Ithaca has appeared in seven Stagg Bowls
total, all under Butterfield.
Butterfield's reputation extended far. He was named Kodak Coach
of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association in 1988
and '91 and earned AFCA District I Coach of the Year honors seven
times. The New York Football Writers Association named him Eastern
Coach of the Year in 1979, '88, and '91.
Coach Jim Butterfield and more than 40 members of the 1991
national championship football team celebrate their 10-year anniversary
in October 2001 (larger image).
Photo courtesy of Lisa Fox Finneran '93
In 1992 Butterfield became the third coach in college football
history to have his school's stadium named after him while still
active. South Hill Field became Butterfield Stadium on September
19; only Eddie Robinson at Grambling State University and Roy Kidd
at Eastern Kentucky University had been so honored before.
He finished with a career record of 206-71-1.
While he amassed impressive numbers and honors, it was never
about statistics and
trophies, according to those who knew him best. "Discipline, integrity,
hard work, fairness, class, that's what I took from him . . . as
my foundation in coaching," Welch says.
"He coached and played by the rules," says Boyes. "He
taught hundreds of young men, and if they took away anything,
they took away that.
There isn't a day that goes by that I don't do something that has
its roots in the lessons I learned under Jim."
The Butterfield family has established the Jim Butterfield
Scholarship Fund. For information contact Elayne
This article originally appeared in the Ithaca Journal on
November 28, 2002. Reprinted with permission.
Randy Garrett '73 wrote a poem in honor of Coach
Butterfield, which you can read online: Tribute to