Spartan Nation: You’re bringing energy. Where does that energy come from?
Coach Burton: Well, number one it comes from being a former student athlete, opportunities that I’ve had in the past – the good, the bad, the ugly – and you know what you want to coach. You talk about being a player’s coach and talk about being this or that, but you just wanna be a coach that our kids respond to. You always wanna play more of a chess match with the kids and force them to think in a lot of situations, whether it’s football or whether it’s a social issue. But you want them to think. And what I like to do to create that energy is to force our guys to think about what’s good, what’s bad and what’s indifferent. Understanding that you have to be a leader. Do you wanna lead from behind or in front? I like to lead from behind. I want our guys to take that leap and in doing that you create energy from each kid, because each kid’s different.
SN: Tyler Hoover gave me a great quote about you. He said, “It brings credibility that you’ve been in the league.” You’ve been where they want to go. How much is that a help for a coach?
CB: Well, it’s part of the experience, especially coming from different coaches that you’ve been around. That’s the pinnacle of where everybody wants to be. It’s glamorized a little bit through the media about playing at that next level, but the NFL stands for Not For Long. You can use that and dangle that but it doesn’t last for long. But it’s a great way to rise to the occasion but understand it’s all true life. It’s a part of life.
SN: I’ve got to ask you about the way you conduct your specific practices for your unit. Again, Tyler and Shilique have both talked about where they maybe did one rep before, now they’re doing three in the same time. I love your high energy, up-tempo… Somebody described to me as Oregon in Michigan State colors. What do you think of that?
CB: What you try to do is create game situations, regardless of the drill and the tempo, that you’re gonna see in the game. And that’s what we’re trying to do. Get our kids in a tired state, creating an extra rep that in the game. It’s gonna be that much easier for them. So what we’re trying to create is the tempo. Set it as much as you can through a drill, through individual work, through group work and then the team, so it becomes easier for them in a game-like situation.
SN: The other day watching you practice you were all over a kid. But then as soon as you’re done, you hugged him and he’s smiling. To me, I thought that was a glimpse into your style. Did you have a tough dad, tough mom? Where’d that come from?
CB: Yeah, I had a tough dad, tough mom, but treat them like your own. Treat the kids exactly like you want yours to be treated. And understanding that being the father figure, being the figure that’s in front of them right now, that you want them to know, Yes this is how it needs to be done but more importantly I can still love you at the same time. And that’s what we try to create. You treat them like your own son or daughter in a situation, whether you’re dealing with football or dealing with a social issue.
SN: Marcus Rush put you into terms that I thought was really cool. He said you listen and that you care. How key is that to your coaching style?
CB: Well, you’re trying to create trust and that happens over time. A trust factor is being able to lay your own self out on the table so a kid can begin to trust you. And that takes time. That’s a process. What we’ve done is try to create a family atmosphere and deal with family issues. Sometimes you have to let your hair down and let them know about your own issues. That gravitates you and lets them know you’re being credible but more importantly being real. And that’s what I try to do is be as real as possible. I don’t have all the answers but I can find them. It’s just being able to trust that part of it, and then I can go into the next part of it in learning football.
SN: I think good fathers make good coaches. Mark (Dantonio) likes the coach’s kids around. So my two-part question: Was that appealing to you in the interview process? And then second of all, do you agree that you being a good father significantly contribute to what makes you a good coach?
CB: Well, I think that’s great and that’s what we come from. That is the task; that is the aim. To be a father figure at home and be a father figure to your kids here at school. During this process, as I sat down with Coach D, that was brought up. In his example of his family here, that’s the same example he wanted with our players. I wouldn’t be here without it because that’s why I had at the Air Force Academy under Fisher DeBerry and Troy Calhoun and I want to continue that. And he had every sense of that here, in the Spartan family right here on this campus and on this team. So that’s where we were.
SN: But when they see you interact with your family, I think it allows them to see you even more as a role model, not just as coach. Is that fair?
CB: True. Here’s an example, and it’s necessary. It’s always not gonna be positive. You’re gonna have negative issues. And how you react to those issues, whether it’s home or here, I think over time that’s experience I’ve gained in how to handle those situations. We’re here in Spartan Land to do the same here for our football program and for the school.
SN: What are you most pleasantly surprised with since you’ve got here? Maybe something that you didn’t expect or just didn’t know, but wow that really pleasantly surprises me.
CB: Things that surprise me is how the family outside of the football has been around. Including John Lewandowski, the Administrators here, sports information, how they are totally involved. What’s surprised me is how the janitorial service and custodians here are all a part of this family and how they’ve spoken of Coach D. Going out into the community, whether it’s getting a hair cut or going to the Hall of Fame Restaurant. Where, Wow! That’s really surprised me how everybody’s had this family atmosphere, not just outside these doors but everywhere else.
SN: We hear players all the time say they can’t wait for the season. Coaches, because they’ve done it a lot longer, sometimes say, Hey we’ve got a lot of work to do before the season. You can hardly wait for the season to kick off either, can you?
CB: Oh yes. But it’s a part of the process. When you’ve been coaching 20+ years you understand the process. Where we are right now in 15 practices, we’re trying to create those season-like situations right now. And you’ll understand that process. But, you hold the reins back for yourself because you’ve got so much to teach and you want to learn, to teach your kids. So yeah, I can’t wait for the season. But it’s still part of the process to go through spring ball, get through summer and understand the things that’s necessary to be better, with the strengthening and conditioning and start preseason camp. So those steps are being taken right now and trying to reach to the pinnacle of the Rose Bowl and the National Championship.
SN: You already sound like a Dantonio disciple.
CB: It takes steps and we’re taking them right now. That’s for sure.
SN: You have brought a lot of new drills in. How are Spartan fans going to see some things different on the defensive line?
CB: We talked about our drills and what we do. Those drills have to be drills that you’re gonna see in the game. So every situation, whether it was a pass rush or it was a running technique, you can see the drill in the actual game situation. Like a steer drill where you block it by offensive line and you’re steering it, leveraging to get out to escape a block. That drill is out there in the game. Our hoop drill where you’re one on one with the offensive line, you’re pass rushing and you’ve got a pass rush move that you’re working. That’s part of the drill. The get off drill where you’re underneath the chutes and you’re trying to turn your feet over to attack an offensive linemen and get vertical up the field. That’s in the game situation. So those things, free and bend being able to bend off the offensive lineman and then turn and point your toes and what you’re doing. Those things are all relevant to the game. I don’t like to do drills to do drills. Those drills need to be automatically seen in the game-like situation. And that’s basically the correlation.
SN: I was asked recently about how would I describe you to people, and I said 100 lbs heavier and black and he’s Narduzzi.
CB: That’s what you got. All of the above.
SN: But isn’t that fun working for a guy that matches your intensity level? He’s your boss and he’s already like, I love it. I love the energy. I mean he’s (Narduzzi) in love with what you’re doing.
CB: Yes he is. Being enthusiastic about the game is a part of what we do and the kids need to feel that energy. When you have it in the coaches and you can take it to the field and show that all the time. I mean, we’re gonna clash. That’s necessary. What’s needed to be seen by your football teams, specifically your defense, is to show the intensity, the violence necessary to play the game. And the love of the game.
SN: Is there anything more frustrating in the world, Coach, than to see a kid with all the God-given things…the height, the weight, the strength, the mind…but no love?
CB: Yeah, you wanna continue to find the way… What will make this young man see the other side? What is it? Is it someone robbing and pillaging your home? Somebody trying to get after you. What’s gonna put that kid in a position to translate all those intangibles to the football field? Each kid is different, so you’re always a tactician trying to be a psychologist . What’s the best thing to do for this particular kid to get him to the next level because of the attributes he has.
SN: Coach Calhoun (From Air Force) said on my radio show the day you were hired that he didn’t want to lose you. What was it about Mark Dantonio that you said, “I’m gonna go roll the dice and coach for this guy.” What was it?
CB: His faith, his family and his football program. It was all part of exactly what I had at the Air Force Academy and it was a bigger level. No doubt about it, going from the Mountain West to the Big 10. He had a track record of what he’s done in this program and where he’s headed. His faith and his family is first, and the football program was right there also. And I wanted to be a part of it.
SN: I want the people to get to know you. You mentioned family and faith. Could you tell everyone about that side of Ron Burton?
CB: Well it’s a walk, and it’s daily, and it’s minute by minute. But I have a strong family at home and a strong faith, and it starts at home. It starts with the Word. And you’re constantly learning all the time. I’m no different than the players right here. We’re constantly learning and improving our faith on a daily basis and just striving to be a strong peer and be an example. Show your love to the true Master, to the God above. That’s all the time and that’s constant. I want people to keep my family in their prayers too because we’re always trying to improve ourselves faith-wise. It is never ending. And that’s what I want them to know. That it’s constant and it’s always improving on a day by day basis.
SN: Thanks for your time, Coach.
CB: Appreciate it. Thank you so much.