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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.”