When USF head coach Jim Leavitt announced the addition of Wally Burnham to the USF staff in March 2000, he drew an analogy to a "recruiting coup."
Why not? After all, Burnham has an abundance of big-time college coaching experience, including nine years with Bobby Bowden at Florida State and five years as an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at South Carolina. Furthermore, Burnham has blazed the recruiting trails throughout Florida and beyond during his coaching career. In all, Burnham brings 38 years of coaching experience (including 34 at the college or pro level) to the table.
Now, after six seasons in a key role building a powerful USF defense, Burnham has been promoted to assistant head coach and also becomes the sole defensive coordinator after four years as co-coordinator.
Burnham has done plenty to prove Leavitt’s decision to hire him six years ago to be a very astute one. Although his role was coaching the defensive ends in 2000 before assuming a more prominent role as co-coordinator in 2001, Burnham’s imprint has been on the USF defense from the outset.
Since 2000, the USF defense has improved from 32nd among all I-AA programs nationally to 38th among I-A schools in 2001 and all the way to 17th in Division I-A in 2002, 2003 and once again in 2005. Also in 2002, the Bulls ranked number one in the nation in turnover margin thanks in large part to a ball-hawking defense that was also ranked seventh nationally against the run.
Burnham played a large role in the development of USF linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who became the school’s all-time leader in tackles and the highest-ever drafted Bull when the Kansas City Chiefs took him in the second round in 2003. Maurice Jones, another Burnham pupil, signed a free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers. Current USF linebacker Stephen Nicholas appears a likely candidate to follow in their footsteps, having been named to the Butkus and Nagurski Award Watch Lists.