New coach Burns is enthused to be at the helm

Kent Erdahl

New Minnesota men’s gymnastics coach Mike Burns didn’t waste any time bringing energy and enthusiasm to his new team.

Burns officially accepted the position Oct. 8 – a day before Minnesota’s football team played at Michigan, which happened to be the program Burns was leaving.

He has been pushing his new program from day one.

Because so many Gophers fans were around for the game, Burns decided to use his old connections to plug his new team. Before the kickoff, he went up to the Michigan Stadium press box to talk to Minnesota radio announcer Dave Lee.

“I had to put on a trench coat almost to get in, but when I got there, I took it off and I had all of my Minnesota stuff on,” Burns said. “The Michigan people were like, ‘What a traitor.’ But I said, ‘I don’t work for you anymore.’ “

Later that night, Burns flew into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and met with his assistant coaches to try to sway their first recruit of the year.

Although Minnesota eventually lost that recruiting battle to his old team, it showed just how hard Burns – a two-time national assistant coach of the year with the Wolverines – was willing to work to extend the tradition of Gophers gymnastics.

Because he started more than five weeks after the beginning of the recruiting season, Burns said, he didn’t have any choice but to “hit the ground running.”

The lack of preparation time also helped Burns focus on building a new tradition instead of trying to replace legendary coach Fred Roethlisberger, who retired during the summer after 33 seasons with Minnesota.

“Somebody asked me, ‘How are you going to fill Fred’s shoes?’ I said, ‘I’m not,’ ” Burns said. “Fred’s shoes are Fred’s shoes, and they need to be bronzed and put on the hall-of-fame shelf.”

It wasn’t as if Burns didn’t have his work cut out for him, regardless of whom he was replacing. Minnesota was without a coach for more than two months.

“There was a gap there when we didn’t have a head coach and things were in limbo, but the transition with Mike was really easy,” senior Guillermo Alvarez said. “He definitely has a lot of energy, and it really caught on with the rest of the team.”

Burns credits assistant coaches Kyle Zak and Russ Fystrom for keeping things running smoothly despite the lapse in time.

Zak and Fystrom maintained the normal training schedule, helped prepare a group of five incoming freshmen and contacted potential recruits.

“We didn’t slack off, but all we did was not let things fall through the cracks,” Zak said. “Mike maybe gave us a little too much credit. We were just doing our jobs.”

Even so, Burns said he doesn’t want to forget the positive things that make the team better – whether they are executed by the coaches or the athletes.

Although this is his first job as head coach, Burns said he relishes the opportunity to make his own decisions.

From the start, the easiest decision Burns said he made was to be a motivator.

“The biggest thing I’m trying to bring here is a higher level of enthusiasm,” Burns said. “I just want to get people pumped and make them smile so they enjoy what they’re doing.”