Hes young, smart, skilled Ñ and a hot commodity
OSU secondary coach's rŽsumŽ is already packed with plaudits
CORVALLIS Ñ When a college football coach tells you that if he weren't in coaching, he probably would be a university professor, it normally smacks of pretension.
Not so with Nigel Burton.
Oregon State's secondary coach isn't your average picnic basket when it comes to academia.
As a starting safety for the University of Washington from 1996-98, Burton was a three-time NCAA District 8 Academic All-American, one of three in the school's history.
He was a 3.3 GPA student who earned a degree in accounting and human resource management at UW and a master's in marketing and management at South Florida. He received the Black Coaches Association postgraduate award and the John McClendon Memorial Minority Scholarship in 2000.
Burton has been a member of three important NCAA committees: the National Student-Athlete Advisory Panel, the National Management Council and the Initial Eligibility Consultants Group.
And he is only 27.
'Those things were fun,' Burton says. 'Being involved in things where I have a voice and can make an impact, that's what I want to do. I want to make a difference somehow. Leave something, you know?'
Burton thought about getting into college counseling, and he worked as an academic mentor for the football team at the University of Florida for a few months in 1999. Gator offensive coordinator Buddy Teevens, who had recruited Burton out of high school in Sacramento, Calif., told him: 'If you are thinking about getting into coaching, do it now, when you're young and single.'
'I kind of knew I wanted to be a coach,' Burton says, 'but that helped firm things up in my mind.'
So there is an ironic twist as the Beavers play host to Stanford in their final home game Saturday. Teevens is Stanford's head coach.
'We will probably talk after the game,' Burton says. 'We are close, but I pretty much wait until the season is over before I talk to anybody.'
By the book
Burton grew up the only son of a senior master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. Discipline was the family byword.
'Most definitely,' Nigel says. 'There were rules and everything. I mean, I watch TV shows about military families, and it's not like that. There were no 'Yes, sirs.' But my father had curfews. You had to get good grades. It helped me understand you have to work for things in life. I wouldn't have had it any other way.'
Burton led the University of the Pacific in tackles as a freshman in 1995 before the Tigers dropped football. He transferred to Washington, where he was a starter for three Husky bowl teams and team captain as a senior.
'He was a guy everybody said wasn't big enough or fast enough,' says Portland State coach Tim Walsh, who remembers watching Burton as a player and had him on his staff for two years. 'All he did was make big plays. The same assets he had as a player Ñ work ethic, determination, desire to not be beaten Ñ are all the great qualities he has as a coach.
'Nigel is extremely smart and has good people skills. I was fortunate to have him for two years, but I knew he would be a hot commodity. I knew I wouldn't have him for long.'
Made an impression
A spot opened on Mike Riley's staff at OSU when cornerbacks coach Darryl Lewis left for personal reasons after spring ball. Burton was the first candidate who came to mind, Riley says. They had met at a coaching convention in New Orleans last year and spoke again at a Nike combine at Stanford last spring.
'Nigel made an impression on me,' Riley says. 'He was very sharp, bright-eyed, excited about the profession. I noted he met people well and was very personable.'
On a recruiting visit to Jesuit High in Sacramento the next week, Riley noticed a photo of Burton in the office of coach Dan Carmozzi.
'Did Nigel go to school here?' Riley asked.
'Yes, he did,' Carmozzi answered. 'and in my 30 years of coaching, he is one of the finest kids I have ever had.'
Shortly thereafter, Burton was hired to coach the OSU cornerbacks, perhaps the chief area of concern for the Beavers this season after the loss of starters Dennis Weathersby and Terrell Roberts, both now with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals.
Something has clicked. Replacements Brandon Browner, a redshirt freshman, and Aric Williams have been not only solid but a strength in OSU's solid defensive scheme.
'We're doing OK,' Burton says. 'I had hoped for those two to show continued development through the season, and they've done that. The best part is, they understand they have to get better. They're competitors, and they're starting to get themselves a little rep in the Pac-10, which is what we wanted.
'And those two are being pushed by some good young guys behind them. We are in pretty good shape for the future.'
Things are going so smoothly for Burton, it hasn't even been a problem that his wife of nine months, Heather, was once a cheerleader at the University of Oregon.
'We have an ongoing joke about that stuff, but, truthfully, its been easy,' he says, laughing. 'She wears the orange and black and screams for the Beavs. Hey, this is our livelihood.'
It will come as no great surprise if Burton becomes a head coach some day Ñ at the college level, not the NFL.
'I'm a college guy,' he says. 'That's me. I like the (coach-player) relationship part. The pro level is about paychecks a little too much for me.'