Shane Burnham: From pharmaceutical rep to Rutgers football – Asbury Park Press
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PISCATAWAY – Shane Burnham became a football coach the moment that he decided he would rather live in a hole than in a rut.
The former South Carolina linebacker spent his first season out of college as a NCAA-designated “restricted-earnings coach” at Richmond, where his salary in 1998 was about one-fifth of the starting pay for his former teammates who headed off to Wall Street.
“I was making $12,000 and living at the bottom of the basketball facility at Richmond,” Burnham told Gannett New Jersey. “I’m literally taking the stairs to work and living at the office. All my old teammates, they are out on the weekends, and I’m watching film. So I got out of coaching.”
Burnham, whose father Wally spent 50 years in coaching before his recent retirement and whose brother worked in football operations, made the seemingly blasphemous decision to become a pharmaceutical sales rep.
So how is he the new Rutgers defensive line coach?
During his two-year stint out of football, Burnham, 37, realized that the grass on the gridiron was the shade of green he most loved.
“If one of my doctors told me, ‘I’m writing your script today,’ it was OK,” Burnham said. “But if one of my guys makes a play on third down, that’s a drug I cannot buy. It’s a high I cannot buy. The hair on the back of your neck stands up. I just wanted to get back in football.”
A break-up with his then-girlfriend – “She was like, ‘I don’t want to be a coach’s wife,’ so I said, ‘OK, I don’t want to be a coach,’ Burnham recalls, laughing at himself – led two old flames to get back together.
Burnham reunited with his basement apartment at Richmond in 2001, when then-head coach Jim Reid agreed to give him a second chance.
“He said, ‘I’ll hire you back, but it’s going to be the same money,’” Burnham said. “I’m making good money plus a bonus and a car – and then I’m right back in the hole. I think I packed my apartment in about 1 ½ days. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I couldn’t get there fast enough.”
Football in the bloodline
Wally Burnham, who was a position coach under the legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State from 1985 through the 1993 national championship season, isn’t surprised his son found his way home.
A young Shane tagged along to Florida State football training camp and 2-a-day practices – “Back when there was real 2-a-days and you had 20 of them,” an obviously old-school Wally points out – with access to future NFL All-Pros like Deion Sanders and Marvin Jones.
“He’s been a football junkie all his life,” Wally said. “When he was in high school he would bring home his tape on Thursday nights and he and I would sit and watch.You could tell at that point that he just understood football.
“That’s something that separates a lot of football coaches and real football coaches: They understand the game.”
It’s the reason that Wally thought that a restricted-earnings position – rather than a graduate assistant coach job at the FBS level – was the best way for Shane to transition to the sidelines.
“I wanted him to learn how to recruit, how to handle a meeting room, how to handle a position on the field in a practice situation and a game, the academics part,” Wally said.
“He was blessed in a sense that he got to start off that way. He should be – and I think he is – thankful for every day he spent in the bottom of that gym learning to be a football coach.”
As Burnham climbed the ladder as a position coach from Richmond to The Citadel to Elon to Iowa State to Rutgers, he also counted two other pieces of good fortune: Finding a wife who could handle the on-the-move lifestyle – “You better have a good one and I have a great one,” he said – and those formative years in Florida.
Shane will handle recruiting the talent-rich Sunshine State for Rutgers, knowing from experience that his surname opens doors.
Wally’s nine-year tenure as an assistant at South Florida included when the program shot up to No. 2 in the national rankings only to be upset at Rutgers in 2007.
“I’ve got a great name down there because of my dad, really,” Shane said. “He paved the way, and it’s been good for me to go down there and piggy-back him.
“I know I can go to Florida and get a different kid at Rutgers than I could’ve gotten at Iowa State. I had kids that wouldn’t listen to me because they didn’t want to come out to the Midwest and be in the Big 12.”
Burnham’s arrival at Rutgers is a chance to sprout his wings after spending the last seven seasons as an assistant coach under his father. Wally was Iowa State’s defensive coordinator and responsible for recommending his son’s hire to head coach Paul Rhoads.
“I wasn’t going to go if it wasn’t going to be (with) Shane,” Wally said, unafraid to blur the lines between father and boss because of his son’s work ethic. “I’m going to brag a little bit, but I’ve never been around anyone any better at a younger age than he was seven years ago when he came to Iowa State.”
Iowa State reunited father and son for the first time since South Carolina, when Wally was defensive coordinator during Shane’s playing days. It also allowed Shane’s three daughters more time around their grandparents.
““That’s what I’ll miss the most – having mom down the street and having dad, not in the office, but around my kids,” Shane said.
“We had some great Saturdays together, but I was ready to get off on my own again. Certainly part of it is he brought me there and helped me so I could have this kind of opportunity, which I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Like at Rutgers, Iowa State underwent a complete regime change after last season.
The younger Burnham fielded multiple offers. His father, who opted for retirement, pulled for Rutgers to win out.
“Sometimes I tried to force things on him – maybe you want to look at it this way? – and then through osmosis,” Wally said. “I’ve heard him say things to parents that I know he’s heard me say, but really he’s done a hell of a job forging his own way.”
Shane chose to reunite with Rutgers coach Chris Ash, who was defensive backs coach on Wally’s first staff at Iowa State in 2009.
“I don’t want to be a jump-around guy,” Burnham said. “I’ve got little girls and I want them to have roots. I’m fired up to join Chris.”
For Shane, Rutgers was synonymous with the site of his first game as a coach – a one-point loss that felt like a moral victory for Richmond in the 1998 season-opener – and New York City.
“I didn’t have a frame of reference,” he said. “I told my wife I’m going up to the Big City, and I drove up the first day and six deer ran across the hood of my car.”
That it wasn’t the company car of a pharmaceutical sales rep still sits just fine with Burnham.
“When I was selling pharmaceuticals, I just didn’t like the people. I didn’t like wearing a tie,” Burnham said. “The color and pageantry around college football, sometimes I’ll look up and say, ‘This is pretty cool.’ It’s just passionate people that bring it every day. That’s why you get in coaching.”
Chris Ash new head football coach at Rutgers Universary addresses the media.
STAFF VIDEO BY MARK R. SULLIVAN