Burns keeps eyes on turnaround, even as dismal season fades

Tuesday, November 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Tulsa coach Keith Burns will be trying to figure out Saturday what went wrong, regardless of whether the Golden Hurricane beats Louisiana Tech.

After nine straight losses, the most since 11 consecutive defeats in 1954, Burns said Monday that his evaluation of Tulsa's doomed season starts right after the final game.

``I've got to look at the job that I did, to be honest with you,'' he said. ``I've never had a year like this. The worst season I've ever been a part of as a coach was a 2-8-1 our first year we took over at Rice. But 2-8-1 was a good deal because they didn't win at all the year before.''

Burns already knows some things about how his team came to be 1-9 and 0-7 in the WAC.

Injuries to four key players on defense didn't help. Nor did repeated injuries that sent starting quarterback Tyler Gooch to the bench. And Burns said his team lacked a certain chemistry that's needed to win.

It wasn't until last week's game that he saw his defense consistently striving to get to the ball.

``When the ball was handed off, it went right or left, we had five guys chasing hard,'' he said. ``Before, it seemed like we had maybe one, and if the guy missed, they made it to the house.''

As an enthusiastic player who carried that spark into his job as coach, the lack of effort is the thing that troubles him the most.

``When you have those things and your team doesn't reflect them, it hurts more,'' Burns said. ``So when we start making evaluations, I've got to look myself right in the mirror first.''

He won't talk about the prospect of staffing changes. And he doesn't blame the players.

Burns still talks about a turnaround as faithfully as he did two years ago when he inherited a team that hadn't had a winning season since 1991.

Sixty-two of Tulsa's 88-player roster are freshmen or sophomores, and Burns is counting on them. His recruiting strategy will be to emphasize Tulsa's ``people'' and that young players get the opportunity to play on his team.

He won't be dwelling on this year's mistakes.

``When this season's over, 2-9 or 1-10, I'm going to learn from mistakes but you won't hear me make a whole lot of references back to it. We're going to move forward,'' he said.

Burns said he's not worried about his job security or what his critics say. He pointed to his success as an assistant in turnarounds at Arkansas, Southern Cal and Rice. He also pointed to Tulsa's 5-7 record last year.

``I've got a great deal of confidence in my ability. It didn't go my way this year. (But) I'm the same guy who took 'em to the most wins in nine years a year ago,'' he said.

``I've always been able to turn it. That will be my challenge.''