Leavitt needs replacements

Now that former defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has left USF to take the same position at Iowa State, it seems as if coach Jim Leavitt is scrambling to find a replacement.

The loss of Burnham is not good news for Bulls fans.

Burnham, who served as defensive coordinator for seven of the past eight seasons, left one of the fastest-rising football programs in the country. The Bulls have had so much success because of Burnham, and he will be hard to replace — if Leavitt ever finds a replacement.

Burnham helped Leavitt build USF’s program from the ground up. Thanks to Burnham’s leadership and coaching, USF was ranked in the top 25 in total defense from 2003 to 2008. In 2007, USF was tied for second in the nation for interceptions returned for touchdowns (5).

This was a result of Burnham’s work with defensive backs Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams, who now play in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. Burnham turned players like Jenkins and Williams, who were not
high-caliber recruits coming out of high school, into arguably the best cornerback tandem in the country. Williams and Jenkins were part of the team in 2005 that made USF’s first bowl game appearance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Burnham has taken “nobodys” and molded them into future superstars often.

Linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Ben Moffitt were two-star recruits according to Rivals, but Burnham coached them to become defensive leaders with future NFL careers.

But the most well-known “rags to riches” player has to be USF senior defensive end George Selvie.

Selvie was recruited as a center in 2005, but he did not garner much attention because of his size. He entered college listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, and USF was the only FBS school to offer him a scholarship. However, Selvie made the switch to defense and became the school’s first two-time, first-team All-American, holding the school record for career sacks (25.5).

Not a bad job, Mr. Burnham.

Now, the question on USF fans’ minds is: Who will fill these expectations and become defensive coordinator?  As of now, the answer remains a mystery — a mystery that needs to be solved fast.

Luckily for USF fans, Leavitt has been working hard to find a replacement. The Tampa Tribune reported Tuesday that he’s already interviewed two people for the position — Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.

Though Ekeler — who played at Kansas State while Leavitt was a linebackers coach there — doesn’t have a long coaching tenure, he brings a variety of experience. He was a graduate assistant for one season at Oklahoma, a great defensive school, and coached at LSU, another defensive powerhouse. At 37, he just finished his first year at Nebraska last season under defensive mastermind Bo Pelini.

Tresey was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator for the past two seasons, but was let go when coach Brian Kelly switched to a 3-4 defense.  Under Tresey’s guidance, the Bearcat’s defense produced 43 interceptions and 73 sacks in two seasons. With 12 years of college experience, Tresey has much more experience than Ekeler.

There is no doubt that options are available for Leavitt. And with spring football starting in less than two weeks, if Burnham’s legacy is going to be replaced, the time to do so is now.