Big weekend for Burnham family
Saturday's USF season opener against Elon is one of those I-AA games that are often described as "meaningless," and the scoreboard may very well reflect that by the end of the night. So in searching for a story to run this week, I was happy to find a storyline that allowed us to approach the game from a less serious standpoint, and you have today's front-page feature on Wally Burnham having the once-in-a-lifetime chance to coach alongside one son (Pat, USF's director of high school relations) against another (his son Shane is Elon's defensive line and special teams coach).
Burnham's a good story all by himself, as someone with nearly four decades of coaching experience in a program that's only been around 10 years. I got to write a little on his background in 2005, when we wrote about USF's co-defensive coordinators, and we wrote more last December when the Bulls played at Legion Field, where he played six times as a player at Alabama under Bear Bryant.
Anyway, talking to all three coaching Burnhams, and Barbara, the matriarch of the family, gave me no shortage of fun stuff for the story. There's a fun rivalry among the Burnhams, a lot of back-and-forth that makes a story easy to write. Wally and Shane talk nearly daily, and Shane said he would slyly try to get information from his dad, with little success. If Burnham was unhappy with an intrasquad scrimmage, Shane said he'd ask: "So Dad, what exactly were you unhappy about?" Pat said he knew the game was close when he and Shane had an entire conversation about the 30-3 baseball game last week, instead of their usual football and recruiting talks.
One other note I wasn't able to get into the story but one I thought reflected the closeness of the coaching community: Burnham is very close with FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. I knew they'd coached together in Tallahassee, of course, but didn't realize they were roommates as freshmen at Alabama more than 40 years ago. (I remember learning when the movie "Forrest Gump" came out that Forrest wore Andrews' number, No. 44, while at Alabama). And just as Wally and Mickey are close, Burnham's son Pat and Andrews' son Ronnie, who died last week at age 41, were lifelong best friends. Wally and Pat went to Tallahassee for Andrews' funeral -- Pat said he hadn't been to Tallahassee since the team went this spring for freshman running back Keeley Dorsey's funeral. So it's been a tough time for the Burnham family, but they've helped each other through it.
(The photo I posted here is one we couldn't run in the paper, bumped by a great portrait of Wally and Pat taken by Melissa Lyttle. The pic shows the last time the Burnhams were on the same football field, at South Carolina in 1997. Wally was defensive coordinator (nice mustache!), Pat a graduate assistant and Shane a senior linebacker in his third year as starter. I'm hoping we can get a picture of Wally's three granddaughters at Saturday's game.)