TAMPA — A veteran defensive coordinator, synonymous with a Tampa team's consistent football success, makes a surprising jump at a new challenge and the rare chance to coach alongside one of his sons.
Much like the Bucs' Monte Kiffin leaving for Tennessee, defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, a USF assistant for nine seasons, is leaving to take the same job at Iowa State. Joining him in Ames as his defensive tackles coach will be his youngest son, Shane, a defensive assistant at Division I-AA Elon.
"This is part of my bucket list," said the 67-year-old Burnham, referring to the Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman movie in which the two characters run through a list of things they want to do before they kick the bucket. "This is something I've always dreamed about. It's a great opportunity for him, and we're excited to try to do something together as a family."
Burnham and his wife, Barbara, visited Ames over the weekend, and he accepted Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads' offer Tuesday morning. The decision to leave USF wasn't an easy one.
"It was hard, there's no doubt about it," Burnham said. "You stay nine years at a place, you're going to get close to a lot of people, the coaches, players, everyone. You can't stay nine years at a place and not become a part of it. … We went out there and just had a real good feel for the place. It just seemed like the right thing to do."
Players were told Tuesday afternoon, and the news was hard to take, All-America defensive end George Selvie said.
"It hit us pretty hard; everybody's devastated," Selvie said. "He's a great person. He wasn't just your coach, but a friend, a mentor, someone who really cared about you."
Burnham was the Bulls' highest-paid assistant, making $220,000 last season, and his departure leaves USF without either coordinator less than three weeks before the start of spring practice. Offensive coordinator Greg Gregory was demoted and subsequently left to become offensive coordinator at South Alabama.
"What can I say about Wally?" coach Jim Leavitt said. "I've known him a long time, and I'm excited for him. If I had a son and had a chance to do this, I would do the same thing."