Burnett returns as interim USA men’s freestyle coach

Updated: May 7, 2014

By TheMat.com

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Bruce Burnett of Dover, Idaho has been hired to return to USA Wrestling as its National Freestyle Coach, and lead the men’s freestyle program through the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

Burnett served as the National Freestyle Coach for USA Wrestling for two Olympic cycles, from 1993-2000, which are considered among the most successful for the United States in history. During his eight years leading the program, the United States won the World Team titles in men’s freestyle in both 1993 in Toronto, Canada and 1995 in Atlanta, Ga., the only two times in history. In addition, the United States won the medal count in men’s freestyle at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga.

Burnett was an employee for USA Wrestling for 12 years, also serving as the National Developmental Coach for USA Wrestling during the 1989-92, handling the coaching and development of U.S. age group wrestlers.

Burnett will assume this coaching position after the resignation of National Freestyle Coach Zeke Jones, who served in the position for 5 ½ years, and accepted the head coaching position at Arizona State University on April 9.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have one of the greatest coaches in Team USA history again lead our program. Coach Burnett is considered by many as one of the top strategists ever in international wrestling. His proven ability to connect with elite-level wrestlers bodes well for Team USA heading into Rio. Our high expectations for this team just got higher,” said USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender.

“You never lose a passion to work with elite athletes. It comes down to whether you are willing to get in the trenches and do the work, so the athletes have the best chance to fulfill their dreams. It is absolutely, 100% not about me. There are a ton of great coaches who are doing the day-to-day work with our athletes. We have to give them support, fill in the gaps when they are in their college season. That is the job. We want to win medals on the World and Olympic levels and we have the athletes to do that,” said Burnett.

“I was fortunate to have Bruce as a coach and I’m excited to work beside him to help our athletes win medals in Rio. We are all confident the team will respond well to Bruce’s systematic and meticulous approach to preparing for world-level competition. As an administrator, I look forward to capturing every bit of Bruce’s coaching wisdom so that we may make it a part of USA Wrestling’s National Teams program for years to come,” said USA Wrestling Associate Executive Director of Programs and Strategy Les Gutches.

“I am 100% supportive of the move to bring Bruce Burnett in to finish the Olympic quadrennium. I am very excited to work with Bruce. He’s familiar with the system. He brings a great attitude and approach. He will be able to help all of our wrestlers to continue their path to achieve the podium at the World Championships and the Olympics. I’m thoroughly impressed with his history and reputation, and have enjoyed working with him in a limited capacity so far,” said U.S. Freestyle Team Leader Andy Barth.

“I have been able to spend some time with him the last few years, and I think he’s great for the program. He has a no-nonsense, old-school approach, which is good. I grew to have a great relationship with Coach Zeke Jones over the last few years. I know there will be a transition with coaching styles and relationships moving forward. If anybody can establish a relationship with me and help me to continue to improve, it’s him. I am excited. I know there were many candidates. This one is comfortable and comforting. He’s been there before. He has worked with some of the best wrestlers in history. Nothing is new to him. He will help us maintain our efforts to reach our goals in Rio,” said 2012 Olympic champion and two-time World Champion Jordan Burroughs.

During his previous tenure as National Freestyle Coach, Burnett coached many of the greatest wrestlers in American wrestling history. He coached Olympic champions Kendall Cross, Tom Brands and Kurt Angle at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and Olympic champion Brandon Slay at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Team USA won five medals at the 1996 Olympics (three gold, one silver, one bronze) and four medals at the 2000 Olympics (one gold, one silver, two bronze).

Nine U.S. athletes won 11 World titles during Burnett’s previous tenure as National Freestyle Coach included Bruce Baumgartner (1993, 1995), Terry Brands (1993, 1995), Tom Brands (1993), Melvin Douglas (1993), Kurt Angle (1995), Kevin Jackson (1995), Les Gutches (1997), Sammie Henson (1998) and Stephen Neal (1999). At the six World Championships in which Burnett was National Freestyle Coach, the USA won 22 World medals, including 11 gold, four silver and seven bronze. At the World Championships, the USA placed in the top nine at the World Championships as a team every year, placing first (1993, 1995), second (1999), third (1998), sixth (1997) and ninth (1994).

During his tenure, the USA also won the team title at the 1999 Pan American Games with eight medalists. Team USA added seven World Cup team titles (1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000) during his leadership, and Pan American Championships titles in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996.

A total of 17 athletes who competed on the freestyle national team under Burnett’s leadership have been elected into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame: Dave Schultz, Bruce Baumgartner, Kevin Jackson, Kendall Cross, Kurt Angle, Kenny Monday, Brandon Slay, Tom Brands, Terry Brands, Zeke Jones, Melvin Douglas, Les Gutches, Lincoln McIlravy, Stephen Neal, Pat Smith, Kerry McCoy and Eric Guerrero.

“It was a hard decision for me. My wife was willing to make the commitment along with me. Zeke Jones did a great job and has plans set. USA Wrestling is on solid footing. We are in the middle of the Olympic quadrennium. There is a lot of work to get caught up on. I will learn and work with National Coaches Brandon Slay and Bill Zadick, the personal and club coaches and the staff at USA Wrestling. It will be a team effort,” said Burnett.

He became the head coach at the U.S. Naval Academy after leaving USA Wrestling in the fall of 2000, serving 13 years leading the Navy staff until his retirement in September, 2013.

Burnett led the Midshipmen to a 113-57 record (.665) that featured six-straight seasons of 10 or more wins from 2002-07. The Midshipmen have flourished under his guidance, finishing among the top five at the EIWA Championship in seven of the last nine years. Navy placed among the top 25 at the NCAA Championship in three of the last seven seasons. He guided Navy to an 18th-place finish at the 2007 and 2008 NCAA Championships, its highest NCAA finish since placing 13th more than two decades ago (1990). Along the way, he helped mold 10 EIWA Champions, 50 NCAA qualifiers and 10 wrestlers who earned NCAA Div. I All-American honors.

While at Navy, Burnett remained involved in USA Wrestling as a volunteer coach, both on the Senior and the age-group levels. He coached the 2011 Pan American Games team which won the team title with six medalists, including champions Jordan Burroughs, Jake Herbert, Jake Varner and Tervel Dlagnev. He was a coach for the 2014 U.S. Freestyle World Cup Team, which placed third in the standings in Los Angeles, Calif. He also coached the 2005 World University World Games team in Turkey, which had a tremendous performance with three champions, Nate Gallick, Jesse Jantsen and Tommy Rowlands. Burnett was also coach for the 2012 Junior World Team which competed in Pattaya, Thailand.

Prior to joining USA Wrestling, Burnett was the assistant coach for the storied program at Oklahoma State from 1987-1990. While there, the Cowboys won two NCAA team titles, two NWCA National Dual titles and three Big Eight Conference titles.

Burnett had a fantastic career as a high school coach for Meridian High in Idaho from 1974-1987. He coached the team to four state titles, four state runner-up finishes, six district titles and nine conference titles. His record at Meridian was 154-13-2 for a .923 winning percentage. Burnett also served as a state chairperson and a Junior chairperson for Idaho USA Wrestling.

He received an Associate Arts degree from Bakersfield College and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Idaho State University, where he was a star on the wrestling team. He is a member of the Idaho State University Hall of Fame.

“When an athlete can fulfill his Olympic dreams, there is no better feeling. It is not that we did it for them. We provided the conduit for them to do it for themselves and their country. You ask, do they trust the work you are doing to help them get better? If I can bridge that gap and get that trust, they will improve even faster. My job is to help those guys reach that dream. I am confident we will win those medals. God bless the Red, White and Blue,” said Burnett.