By Ian Smith, Cyclonefanatic.com Contributor
Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham is a coaching lifer. Football is in his DNA.
Apparently, the same can be said for his son, Shane.
For the second straight season, the Burnham’s are getting set to lead Iowa State’s defense under head coach Paul Rhoads. They didn’t plan it this way either. In fact, for two years, Shane decided to escape the profession by selling pharmaceuticals, but something kept bringing him back.
“I remember (dad) telling me, ‘If you think you can live without football, go do something else,’” Shane, the defensive tackles coach said at Iowa State’s media day last week. “My mother was dead set against me going into coaching. She didn’t want that life for me. But, I couldn’t live without football. I couldn’t get away from it.”
Like father, like son.
The older Burnham is a crafty veteran in the coaching game. One of the highlights in his more than 40 years on the job was helping Bobby Bowden’s 1993 Florida State squad win a national title. Coaching his son at South Carolina and being instrumental in South Florida’s rise to prominence in the 2000’s are both notable as well.
Not to mention his playing days in the late 1960s under legendary coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant.
By comparison, Shane is still a baby but he does have experience playing at the highest level. The younger Burnham earned four varsity letters suiting up for South Carolina and started his final two years. During his time as a Gamecock, he lined up against the likes of Peyton Manning, Jamal Lewis and Fred Taylor.
“As a player, I was a little bit undersized, slow, a little less athletic than the guys I was playing against,” Shane said. "What I learned that I took into coaching is, the better you know the game, the smarter you are as a football player, the better you will become.”
Now, he is studying under one of the most knowledgeable defensive minds in college football.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Shane said. “I have a ton of respect for the career (Wally) has had, the places he has been and the teams he has been around.”
The formula for the Cyclones defense is working. Last season, Iowa State ranked 34th in the country in scoring defense with a bend, but don’t break style. The Cyclones held a conference opponent to 10 points or less three times – the most since 1965.
And who could forget the 9-7 victory at Nebraska where Burnham’s defense forced eight turnovers?
“It’s been a great experience, something I never thought I’d be able to do and I’m enjoying it,” Wally said.
So how did Shane end up following in his father’s footsteps? It started at an early age.
“(Shane) was always with me,” Wally said. “When I was at Florida State, he went to every meeting, he was on the field. He was always around it. He tried to get out of coaching, but he didn’t enjoy it. He came right back to it. I guess it’s in his blood.”
The two share such a special relationship that Shane said the two can often finish each other’s sentences. When it comes to coaching, the duo sometimes butt heads, but there are never any lingering feelings.
“(They are) very different,” defensive end Rashawn Parker said. “Coach Wally is more serious than Shane. Shane is more relaxed, he jokes around with us more. They both do a great job.”
With a successful first season behind them, it’s up to the Burnham’s and the other defensive coaches to rebuild on that side of the football. Iowa State returns only five starters from that side of the ball.
The Cyclones are counting on new linebackers Jake Knott, A.J. Klein and Matt Tau’fo’ou to provide some of the same intensity and talent departed Jesse Smith took with him.
“I believe the defensive front has got to understand the importance of them making plays, and not just taking up space, and not just finding themselves located in a gap,” Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads said. “I think they started to show that the last week of spring practice. We have to take off from there. I think we have the ability to do that, now in the month of August we have to make sure it becomes consistent with them.”
Remember, Austen Arnaud and the offense is in its second year under offensive coordinator Tom Herman. That means the numbers could sky rocket if past history is any indication.
If the defense comes together like the Burnham’s hope, Big 12 opponents could have their hands full with the Cyclones.