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Burnham wanted a new challenge

Posted Feb 17, 2009 by Brett McMurphy

Updated Feb 18, 2009 at 12:23 AM

University of South Florida defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has never backed down from a challenge.

Whether it was at Alabama playing for Bear Bryant, at USF devising how to shut down West Virginia’s vaunted offense or going nose-to-nose on the sideline with USF coach Jim Leavitt.

On Tuesday, Burnham undertook perhaps his biggest challenge of all, leaving USF to become defensive coordinator at Iowa State, which has lost 18 of their last 27 games in the brutal Big 12 Conference.

“They’ve been down the last couple of years,” Burnham said. “I’m taking it as a challenge to try and turn that thing around, be competitive in the Big 12 and win the northern half of the league.

“To me if you’re a competitive person, you look forward to those opportunities. That was part of it. [His wife] Barbara and I got a great feel up there [at Ames]. Something felt good about it. I like the [new ISU coach] Paul [Rhoads’] vision.”

With Burnham, USF ranked in the top 30 in total defense in six of the past seven seasons, including ranking No. 10 in 2008. Burnham came to USF in 2000 after sitting out a season after getting fired at South Carolina.

In the 1990s, Leavitt and Bob Stoops, then assistants at Kansas State, would “go to Wally at Florida State to learn defensive football.”

“Wally’s a great guy, you just don’t replace him,” Leavitt said. “He’s the best.”

Defensive end George Selvie said the 67-year old Burnham was the ultimate players coach.

“On the sideline during the game, he’s the most fired up person out there,” Selvie said. “He’s on the sideline with us talking trash. You’d think he’d be a calm dude, but he has that fire in him.”

At ISU, Burnham will have a chance to coach with his son, Shane, who’s joining the staff from Elon.

Burnham said he would have taken the ISU job even if his son wasn’t hired, but “it made the decision a lot easier, that was part of my ‘bucket list,’ ” Burnham said.

Twice while at USF, Burnham said he approached Leavitt about his son being considered for openings at USF, but was denied.

Leavitt said “you can’t hire sons to [coach] on the same field” in the state of Florida although Bobby Bowden and his son Jeff coached together at Florida State.

Burnham was USF’s highest paid assistant at $220,000, but Leavitt said ISU’s offer “was so far from what we do. We’re pretty competitive [in salaries] in the Big East, but we can’t compete with the SEC and Big 12. That’s a different world.”

Burnham would not comment on his new salary.

Burnham said there were many reasons for his decision, but ultimately “this was the right move at the right time,” Burnham said. “I enjoyed my nine years here. I appreciate the opportunity Jim gave me. Sometimes you just feel like it’s the right thing to do.”

Reader Comments

Por (JT) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

This one stings, Gregory leaving was no biggie imo.  We needed a change there.

Brett:  Any candidates surfacing for OC and DC?

Thanks.

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Por (Dr. Rob Ritter) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

This is devastating news. Wow, i am in disbelief. I thought this would be his last stop. Had to be because of money.  Now what do we do? The coaching staff is a mess at this point. No OC named yet, now we need a new DC. Still need a WR and Special Teams coach. More news to follow on this i am sure as time goes on we will find out the real reason he left.

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Por (Brett McMurphy) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

JT, no immediate candidates and you can spin it however you want, this is huge blow to USF. It’s a huge blow to lose Burnham for what amounts to a lateral move. It shows there are other factors at work for the coaches leaving.

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Por (Terry Lucas) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

I’m not sure of Coach Burnham’s motive… I would suspect money would be the last thing at this phase of the game for him. Without jumping on the Brett bandwagon, I’m sure he has more insight that is not being discussed here. Will the same rock that built our program be the main piece that causes the program to crumble? Losing Coach B is a very tough pill to swallow. The guy is a class act and will be sorely missed. Why would he leave this late in the game though? We’re about to find out how qualified Coach Leavitt is on the national level. I would not want to be in his shoes. My take… Coach Kravitz will be the quick fix.

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Por (Hector Jimenez) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

WOW!!!!!!!!  This cut needs some stitches and fast….who is USF going to get at this stage of the game who is both cheap and BCS worthy enough to come? 

Couple this with the OC vacancy and this program is one step away from being on life-support…maybe Leavitt’s hubris has gotten the better of USF this time.

My choices:

OC - Patrick Nix
DC - Silvester Croom

Unlikely but worth a shot…what do you think Brett?

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Por (mike) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

There have got to be other reasons for the turnover rate at USF…there is always a common denominator that stays the same. If money was an issue and CJL really wanted to keep a coach, I am sure he could have. It will be interesting to see what the salary is at ISU…I would say definitely more! He will be missed and best of luck at ISU.
Brett you may not feel like you can/should answer this but is staff turnover anyhow related to CJL being difficult to work for?

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Por (jack) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

wow not good news Im glad he waited until after signing day to make this official

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Por (Andrew Johnson) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

hire back Dan McCarney for your defensive Coordinator job.  He is a killer at that position

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Por (Growler Bull) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Yes, this is a big blow for USF and Leavitt has his hands full in finding a capable replacement for Coach Burnham. It’s not going to be easy with his limited budget. The decisions Leavitt makes over the next two months will impact the program for the next 2-3 years so as he needs to make sure he chooses wisely.

Brett—do you think he knew this was a possibility and why he has yet to announce a new offensive coordinator. Otherwise it doesnt make any sense why the delay if Chico is indeed the man ont he offensive side of the ball.

Ouch…

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Por (USF95) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

This sounds like an opportunity to coach with his son (similar to Monte & Lane).  This like the Bucs & Monte was eventually going to happen.  Wally is no spring chicken and either is Monte.  This is his last job.  If this fails he will be out of a job and at his age won’t get hired.  He probably got a raise and a chance to work with his son.  He will probably coach another few years and call it quits.  This day was coming regardless just like the Bucs and Monte.  Losing Gregory is no loss.  He was awful.  Losing Wally hurts but this team was always good on defense (prior to 2000) and will always be good on defense because that’s Leavitt’s specialty.

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Por (Ben Forlaw) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

This is not good news.  Not good at all.  What I’m worried about now are the new recruits - is it only when the Head Coach leaves that they can change their commitments, or can they do the same with coordinators?  Seems like a good DC is going to be hard to find this late.  I’m comfortable with Canales as the OC, but wow ... I wasn’t expecting to read this today.

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Por (USF95) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

I don’t get all the freaking out.  This day was coming soon.  The guy is 67!  Leavitt is one of the better defensive minds in the nation.  He will find a good young replacement.  I want Bernard Clark at FIU.  He did an outstanding job coaching our d-line in 2006 which McCarney inherited in 2007.  UF has lost two quality assistants in two years in Doc Holiday to WVU and this year their OC.  You don’t see UF fans going nuts.  This happens and a good head coach will find a replacement.  You didn’t see K-State collapse in the mid-90s under Coach Snyder when they lost both Leavitt and Stoops.  This is normal in college football and Leavitt will find a good replacement. Gregory is a non-subject since most USF fans wanted him fired anyway.

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Por (David M.) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Bernard Clark could be a good choice.  In order to stay working for a Tyrant the money has to be awsome or you will get burned out.  This turnover will be the same every year with Coach L here and salaries so low.  At the major universities the Booster Money helps pay for coaches salaries, perks, etc.  USF is not there yet with big time booster money.

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Por (Perry Lerner) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Wow this definitely is a surprise. But life goes on.

The guy who wants Patrick Nix as OC, I think that’s crazy. He wasn’t to impressive with UM.  I still stand by the name, Tony Franklin for OC, but we already know that job is taken.

However here is a person to consider for DC. Joe Tresey, who was recently let go by Cincinnati.  Rumor has it he was let go because he had interviewed with UM for their DC job.

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Por (Allen Brown) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

“no immediate candidates and you can spin it however you want, this is huge blow to USF. It’s a huge blow to lose Burnham for what amounts to a lateral move. It shows there are other factors at work for the coaches leaving.”

What are those other factors?  It seems like it is working with his son and he’s 67 years old.  I think USF95 has it right, but feel free to suggest otherwise, Brett.

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Por (JT) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Ok, now that I know his son is coach there makes some more sense.

Brett you have to factor that in as well, maybe you can talk to him about it.

I don’t agree with the lateral move mumbo jumbo you said now that we know his son is coach over there.

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Por (Rich) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Allen,
you and 95 are speculating just as much as Brett or anybody else. what if CJL told Burnham he would be taken care of when the money comes and he doesn’t see that happening? Leavitt got a 50% raise last year. Did Burnham? The assistants pool is scheduled to increase by $100k per year after this year. That’s the same amount Leavitt’s pay goes up every year except he doesn’t have to split it with 8 other coaches. It’s all speculation. Facts are Leavitt doesn’t take care of his assistants. Can’t blame them for leaving. Leavitt will just hire another retread for low pay off of the unemployment line. Give himself a raise and fans will complain USF doesn’t pay their assistants enough.

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Por (Patrick O'Rourke) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

So which graduate assistant is Leavitt going to promote to coordinate the defense?

Pat St. Louis??

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Por (Allen Brown) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Rich:  “The Tampa Tribune has learned Burnham’s son, Shane, an assistant at Elon, will join his father at Iowa State.”

That’s according to Brett and everyone else, so that part is not speculation.  I’m not sure how you don’t think that played a role here.

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Por (Rich) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Allen,

I’m sure it played a role but he also has a son at USF. Is it possible that other factors played a role as well? Could Leavitt have done something to keep him? Maybe bring his son on staff when we had openings like ISU was willing to do. Should he have tried? 6 years in the top 30 is a lot to give up.

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Por (Ben Forlaw) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

To kind of go along with what Rich is saying, and in response to USF95 - do you really need to ask why no one freaks when UF loses an assistant?  Duh!  It’s a better place to work!  Who wouldn’t want to work there?  Our own OC interviewed for a tight ends position there not too long ago.  I think the part about coaching with his son is just the icing on the cake for him.  ISU probably offered him a sweet deal to coach there and he probably took it to maximize his retirement savings.  That part is just speculation, but…

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Por (Allen Brown) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Perhaps double the pay (rumored) is a factor as well, but I think Wally was genuinely excited about coaching at USF.  I remember he was quite giddy about Bedford last year.

Also, Leavitt’s response was nice and professional.  I think those 2 guys liked each other.

However, Burham was getting up there in age.  Also, Leavitt is a defensive coach himself so I’m hopeful our defense won’t decline.

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Por (Ben Forlaw) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

You also have no way of knowing if UF fans freaked out over what, this isn’t their main blog site.  I assure you UF fans freaked when Stoops left as D-coordinator, and when Mullen left, I know my faithful Gator wife was a bit upset about it, as were some of my friends.  My whole point is timing - this seemed to go down pretty quickly - a little too quickly, and I’m a little worried about our potential to land a good solid DC with a trend upward.

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Por (Bret Sanders) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Leavitt difficult to work for, I’d say probably so. Rich said it best, Leavitt doesn’t pay and if I had to work for a guy that was difficult, stingy, I would be looking even if it met I had to go someplace I didn’t want too.  Maybe Burnham is just fed up with Leavitt and tired of the games.  I wouldn’t be surprised if others leave as well. To lose both coordinators in a week, not good, leavitt mishandled Gregory and we may never know what happened with Burnham.  Suffice to say both guys had the best stat’s while they were coordinators, whether you like em or not…

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Por (Allen Brown) on February 17, 2009 (Suggest removal)

Bret Sanders, he left because he wanted to coach with his son.  I’m not sure what you aren’t understanding about that.

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