Wally Burnham brings more than 40 years of experience to Iowa State as the team's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. That experience has played major dividends as the Cyclones made huge strides on defense en route to bowl berths in the Insight Bowl in 2009, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in 2011 and the Liberty Bowl in 2012.
Burnham is the consummate teacher. Nothing affirms that more than the performance of his latest star pupils, Iowa State linebackers A.J. Klein, Jake Knott and Jeremiah George. The trio wasn’t four-or five-star recruits coming out of high school, but all three ended up being All-Big 12 first-team linebackers (2011, 2012, 2013).
In his five seasons coaching the Cyclone linebackers, Burnham has produced four All-Big 12 first-team performers (Jesse Smith, Knott, Klein, George).
Klein and Knott finished their rookie seasons in the NFL in 2013. Klein was named the 2011 co-Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and a unanimous first-team all-Big 12 choice in 2012. He finished his career with 361 career stops and tied an NCAA career record for linebackers by returning four interceptions back for touchdowns. Knott was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 linebacker with 115 tackles in 2011 and finished his career with 347 tackles. The duo blossomed into two of the best linebackers in ISU history and steadily improved under the tutelage of Burnham, who has coached some of the best linebackers to ever play college football.
Burnham continued his amazing development at the linebacker spot in 2013 by mentoring George into an All-Big 12 First-Team pick. George, who led the Big 12 and ranked fourth nationally in tackles (11.1), ranked in the Big 12’s top-10 (league games only) in tackles (1st, 11.8), tackles for loss (5th, 12.0), forced fumbles (4th, 3) and sacks (10th, 3.5). He was selected to play in the 2014 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
In 2013, Burnham and the Cyclones pitched their first defensive shutout in Big 12 play since 2001 in a 34-0 blanking of Kansas. It was the first shutout in Big 12 play in over two years and one of just six shutouts involving BCS conference teams in league play.
In 2012, the Cyclones finished third in the Big 12 in scoring, allowing just 23.9 points per game despite playing the nation’s top offenses. Iowa State was fourth in the league in red zone defense, and against Big 12 competition, Iowa State ranked second in the league in turnover margin and second in red zone defense.
Defensive lineman Jake McDonough was a first-team all-Big 12 selection and safety Durrell Givens earned second-team honors.
There truly seems to be no end of Burnham's ability to transform good players into great ones.
In his first season at Iowa State, former Cyclone walk-on linebacker Smith led the Big 12 Conference in total tackles and earned All-Big 12 first-team honors.
Despite playing the nation's toughest schedule in 2010, Burnham's defense lowered its total yards allowed and total defense national ranking for the second straight season.
Using a bend but don't break philosophy, Burnham’s 2009 Cyclone defense ranked 34th nationally and fifth in the Big 12, allowing just 21.85 points per game. That same season, Burnham's defenders held three conference opponents to 10 or less points for the first time since 1965.
In all five of Burnham’s seasons in Ames, the Cyclones have recorded 20+ takeaways each year.
Burnham came to Ames from South Florida, where he led a Bulls defense that ranked 10th nationally in 2008.
Burnham's South Florida defenses ranked among the top 30 nationally in six of his last seven years coaching at USF. The Bulls ranked 10th nationally in total defense (287.6 yards per game) and run defense (95.2 yards per game) in 2008.
The stellar efforts of the 2008 South Florida defense followed in the footsteps of the 2007 Bull defenders. Led by All-Americans Mike Jenkins, George Selvie and All-Big East performers Ben Moffitt and Trae Williams, the defense led the country in fumbles recovered (19), tied for the lead in turnovers forced and was third in tackles for loss (113). Overall, the Bulls were 28th nationally in total defense and were especially stout in the running game, only allowing eight rushing TDs all season.
The USF defense improved from 32nd among all FCS programs nationally to 38th among BCS schools in 2001 and all the way to 17th in the BCS in 2002, 2003 and once again in 2005. The Bulls ranked No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin in 2002 thanks in large part to a ball-hawking defense that was also ranked seventh nationally against the run.
Prior to joining USF, Burnham was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at South Carolina between 1994-98. Upon arriving at South Carolina, Burnham instituted a new 4-3 scheme for the Gamecocks, and he quickly molded what became to be considered the most improved defense in the SEC. A veteran of many bowl games, his NFL players include defensive back Deion Sanders, linebackers Derrick Brooks (Tampa Bay), Kawika Mitchell (Buffalo), Stephen Nicholas (Atlanta) and defensive back Mike Jenkins (Dallas).
Prior to coaching at South Carolina, Burnham was a nine-year assistant (1985-93) to Bobby Bowden at Florida State, where he was on the 1993 National Championship staff.