Keith Burns TU's New Head Football Coach

Tuesday, December 7th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Keith Burns seized the title of head football coach at Tulsa on Tuesday with a vow not to rebuild the ailing program but "to win and win now." Burns, who helped bring turnarounds at Arkansas and Rice, takes on a Golden Hurricane program that hasn't had a winning season since 1991. "We're on the verge of waking up a sleeping giant," the coach said with enthusiasm during a news conference announcing the choice. "We have to raise the expectation level," he said. "The expectation level is going to be what we set and it's going to be awfully high."

Athletic director Judy MacLeod said the university reviewed more than 100 candidates for the job before choosing Burns, one of two finalists brought to the campus for interviews. His enthusiasm was a major factor, she said. "You don't have to be around him very long to catch it."

In two seasons at Arkansas, the Razorback defense under Burns improved from a national ranking of 103rd to within the top 20 in total defense this year. During his tenure, the Razorbacks posted an overall 16-7 record and will be making their second bowl appearance with a trip to the Cotton Bowl.

Burns worked as an assistant at Rice from 1989 to 1992, a time that saw the team turn the nation's longest losing streak into a 6-5 record. Prior to Arkansas, he spent five seasons under John Robinson at Southern Cal. There, his defensive units ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense in 1994, first in the PAC-10 in scoring defense in 1995, second in total defense in 1996 and first in rushing defense in 1997. Burns pledged to work from "daylight to exhaustion" to revive the Tulsa program.

Tulsa fired longtime head coach Dave Rader on Oct. 25 in the midst of his eighth consecutive losing season. The Golden Hurricane finished with a 2-9 record. "I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time talking about what happened, what if or what maybe or should have been. I'm talking about the direction we're going," Burns said. "And it's going to be to the top." He said he would look to recruit in from high schools in Oklahoma and Texas and aim for the "best of the best." Recruiting challenges include the university's 70-year-old football stadium, declining attendance and the school's demanding academic programs. But Burns said any upgrades must start with the team. He met with players Tuesday. "I told them they would be remembered as the group that turned it around," he said. "And I'll be remembered as the coach that got them going the right direction."

Burns said he believes the best college football teams run the ball, which could mean a change for Tulsa -- long a passing team under Rader. But he said when the run is stopped, "we're going to have ability with quarterbacks we have to throw the ball out and make things happen outside."

Tulsa, a private university, did not disclose the terms of Burns' contract. Tulsa President Robert Lawless said salaries for the coach and assistants are "essentially the same" as under Rader. "We're not spending more resources on the program than we previously spent on the program," he said.

After Rader's firing, Lawless acknowledged that a drop to a lower class of football or even no football might be a possibility if the next football coach has no more success than Rader. Asked how long he would give Burns to turn the program around, Lawless said, "I will tell you he won't have eight consecutive losing seasons. In fact, I don't think he'd have five."