At the ripe age of 72, Iowa State’s grizzled defensive coordinator Wally Burnham is now doing something that many 30-somethings have a hard time grasping.
Welcome to the Twittersphere, coach.
Burnham, who is about to begin his sixth year as the leader of Paul Rhoads’ defense in Ames, joined the social media phenomenon in June and as long as he is still coaching, don’t expect the veteran to ever look back. As long as Burnham is on the recruiting trail representing Iowa State, he doesn’t really have a choice.
“It was an adapt or die kind of thing,” said Burnham’s son and Iowa State’s defensive tackles coach, Shane. “He adapted. This is recruiting.”
Burnham has been adapting in the always-changing world of college football since his career began over 40 years ago. He has long been known as one of the brightest defensive minds in the game. While at Florida State, Burnham faced the chore of combatting the vaunted triple-option attack of Nebraska in the 90’s. Now, he engages in the weekly task of slowing down high-flying spread offenses in the Big 12.
On the field, college football is constantly changing. The same can be said for recruiting too.
“When I went out recruiting this spring, kids were on Facebook and on Twitter,” Wally Burnham said. “That was the best way to get in touch with them. It seems to me like Facebook is kind of fading out with these kids because they would all tell me about Twitter. That’s what got me going.”
Back in the day, cell phones didn’t exist, much less the Internet. Burnham’s role as an assistant coach and recruiter was much simpler then.
“I used to stop on the road and if I needed to call the office because something was changing, you’d stop at a pay phone and get your quarters out and make a call,” Wally Burnham said.
No quarters? No problem. 1-800-COLLECT was always a trusted option. Bobby Bowden was a sure bet to take his call.
“You had a notebook. You had phone numbers,” Wally Burhnam explained. “When we first started having to record numbers for the NCAA, every night when you made a call you’d write it on a piece of paper that you called so-and-so at this number and you’d turn it into compliance the next morning.”
Burnham joining the fast-moving social media world wasn’t a seamless transition, though. The second tweet that Burnham sent out (he has only tweeted eight times since joining) was to former Iowa State linebacker and current Philadelphia Eagle Jake Knott.
It was a simple note that read, “@JKnott20 can’t believe I am doing this tweeter thing. Need it for recruiting. Let’s talk soon.“
Burnham delivered that message the first first day that he joined Twitter. The note to Knott was retweeted 11 times and favorited by 62 people. Problem is, the world wasn’t supposed to see it.
“The first couple of tweets he thought he was sending direct messages,” a laughing Shane Burnham said. “We got him coached up on that. He is learning. For 72, I am proud of him. Not many people have 72-year old parents who are good with the Twitterverse.”
Don’t expect Burnham to be a mass tweeter anytime soon. While he enjoys the vast amounts of information that he receives because of the medium, its primary function is as a recruiting tool.
“We send a lot of private messages and so that’s the way I approach my Twitter account but I try to put something out there once in a while,” Burnham said. “It’s fun. It’s just kind of late in life.”
In only two months, Burnham (@DCWallyB) has gained nearly 1,500 followers. Due to his willingness to adapt on the recruiting trail, a future Cyclone or two could be among the masses.