During the second quarter of the 2008 game against Idaho
found San Jose State
leading 10-7. The Vandals were driving and sophomore quarterback Nathan Enderle
dropped back to pass on third and 10 from the SJSU 44. He reared back and fired a shot toward the endzone, then watched as SJSU freshman safety Tanner Burns
brought down the ball for an interception and touchback, ending the Vandals threat.
"It was a huge play in the game," SJSU defensive coordinator Keith Burns said, "We got them stopped."
There was something more to the play then just ending the Vandal scoring threat. Defensive coordinator Burns is also Tanner's father.
"As he started to come off it dawned on me he was my son," Burns said. "Then emotions started, and that's something. I feel blessed that I can coach my son and see him do something like that."
Burns has been in the coaching profession since 1984. He is a Texas native who played at the University of Arkansas. Tanner was born in 1989 in Houston while coaching defensive backs coach at Rice. Since then he's been at USC, alma-mater Arkansas, Tulsa, and now San Jose State.
The life of a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly D-1A) coach means long stretches of time away from family. Practices, film sessions, meetings, games on the road, evaluating recruiting prospects, and time on the road visiting those prospects, leaves little time for the home team. Having his son as a part of the San Jose State squad makes up for some of that time away.
"I missed a lot of Little League Baseball and Pop Warner Football because I was with someone else's kids," Burns said. "I've always tried to be there for the games, but the practice aspect of it,I was away. So I think this is my way of getting rewarded for the times I spent away from him."
Football is a violent sport, and coaches are not known for their pampering ways when on the practice or game field. There are dozen's of other people's sons on the field being pushed and run and yelled at. There is also a very fatherly aspect to coaching that goes beyond the field. Sports in general, and football in particular, teach many aspects of like that translate away from the field - teamwork and discipline, to name a few. Often times a coach is also a mentor to a young player. When all of those things are added when the son on the field is actually yours it may not be surprising if there are conflicts on which role to play. Not with Burns.
"Honest to God I've tried to coach players like they're my sons," Burns said. "With Tanner, just like the others, I get on him, I drive him, I expect the most out of him. I've always tried to coach them all like they're my sons and I think that's why it's been easy for me. I need to respect him, coach him hard, and make it fun."
Burns said he's had some great mentors of his own along the way. Men like Lou Holtz, Monty Kiffin, and John Robinson have helped him become the coach he is today.
"They treated me with dignity. They coached me hard but if there was a problem off the field - a girlfriend, a class - they seemed to take a sincere interest," Burns said. "As a young coach I learned that and I locked into that as a player. As a young coach I wanted to be that kind of guy. The term players coach I don't like because that is construed as you're the guy's buddy. But I do like the fact that a player will come and talk to me. I've answered a lot of questions that weren't football related because they trusted me."
Burns was with his older son, K.C, and said that having Tanner on the SJSU squad was special for the entire family.
"K.C. is out here with his dad and his brother watching practice," Burns said. "It's been a blessing for me because I've been able to keep my family together. Tanner's not off somewhere else, we're all here in San Jose."
Don Hoekwater is the Publisher of Inside Sparta. You may contact Don with any questions, comments, or tips at email@example.com
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Coaches are often looked upon by players as father-figures. Sports teach players some of the basic aspects of life and a lot of time is spent together. San Jose State defensive coordinator Keith Burns is a true father-figure to one player - his son Tanner, who is a sophomore safety with the Spartans. Burns recently spoke with Inside Sparta about what it's like coaching his son.