Former Northwestern football legend Jeff Burris confirmed on Wednesday that he did apply for the Trojans’ vacant head football coaching position.
“Right now, Rock Hill is a Mecca of high school football,” said Burris, calling Northwestern a top-25 program in the country. “I think there is so much more talent here that needs to have more opportunities to go to school. I think the community has done an outstanding job with the athletic aspect of it, but young men also need to pursue things outside of athletics.”
The former Notre Dame standout would know. He was an excellent student in high school and college, his prep grades enabling him to play for the Fighting Irish, before a lengthy NFL career.
Burris was helping coach the Miami Dolphins’ defensive backs last season when he was let go as part of the firing of interim head coach Dan Campbell. Burris lives in south Florida right now with his fiancee, Lisa, and is looking for the next opportunity. There are several irons in the fire – he’s been linked by a few media reports to an assistant coaching gig at Notre Dame – but nothing at the moment.
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Burris’ mother, Ann, and two older brothers, Marcus and Pat, all still live in Rock Hill. Pat is an assistant football coach at South Pointe. A cousin texts Burris every Friday night from Northwestern games with full rundowns of what transpired.
“The logical thing to do if nothing transpires is to come back home,” Burris said.
There comes a point in life when you need to refocus. Home for me is not just a safe haven but it’s also an opportunity.
On Friday nights, Burris was one of the best football players to ever come out of Rock Hill.
A 6-foot, 190-pounder who could smash and dash, Burris rushed for over 3,500 yards his final two seasons of prep football – earning state player of the year honors in 1988 and 1989 – and was named a high school All-American as a senior.
After one game against Spartanburg, former Trojans coach Jimmy Wallace remembers Notre Dame football recruiting coordinator Vinny Cerrato coming down on the field and telling him that Fighting Irish coach Lou Holtz had told Cerrato to get the two best running backs in the country.
“So I got Jerome Bettis and Jeff Burris,” said Cerrato.
Wallace asked Cerrato, “did you get a Ferrari too?”
Burris had plenty of college football options in 1990, eventually choosing Notre Dame over Georgia and Penn State. He capped a great career in South Bend by earning All-American honors as a senior, primarily as a defensive back that excelled in all three phases of the game.
The Buffalo Bills picked the former Trojan with the 27th choice in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft. Burris started 120 games in 10 NFL seasons, finishing with 19 career interceptions.
“He was a great player, a better person and a great student,” said Wallace. “That guy, he was unbelievable.”
Wallace made clear that he was speaking about Burris, the player, not Burris, the coach. Wallace – who worked at Northwestern for 25 years – said he’s being careful to not speak out of turn while administrators at his former school look for the next head coach of the Trojans.
Northwestern is replacing coach Kyle Richardson, who took a job as an offensive assistant coach at Clemson several weeks ago. Richardson was 58-13 with two state championships in five seasons at Northwestern.
Wallace, who will be 66 in May, also noted that he isn’t applying for the job.
“It’s a fact of life that the old guys move over, the young guys move up,” he said earlier this week.
It would be poetic for Burris to return to his alma mater at some point, especially since he was central to making the Northwestern program what it is today. Northwestern principal James Blake was an assistant coach on Wallace’s coaching staff when Burris was tearing up York County football gridirons nearly 30 years ago.
One potential hurdle: the Rock Hill District Three job posting, and Northwestern AD Lauren West, made clear that the next Northwestern coach needed to have a teaching certificate.
Rock Hill Schools chief personnel officer Rebecca Partlow said in an email, “this is a teaching position that has the extracurricular head football position attached to it. We will look for the appropriately certified teacher who is also the right candidate for the head football position.”
Burris said he would work toward getting his teaching certification while coaching the Trojans, if he were to be hired; South Carolina participates in the PACE program – also known as lateral entry for teachers who majored in other subjects in college – but it’s not clear if that would satisfy the job requirements.
Still, the Rock Hill legend seems to have a high school coaching itch that he’s ready to scratch. Burris tells his fiancee that when he “grows up” he wants to be a high school football coach.
“You’re impacting young people’s lives,” said Burris, “i.e. coach Wallace. I love him dearly and without him, I don’t know if I would be where I am today.”