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Kent GRIT era rolls on for extra year after coach signs extension

New Kent State football coach Kenni Burns (center) poses with university athletic director Randale Richmond (left) and university president Todd Diacon (right) at Burns’ first press conference Dec. 16, 2022. Courtesy of Kent State Athletics

Kent State football will be under the direction of Kenni Burns until the 2028 season after the first-time coach’s contract was extended an extra year Friday.

Burns signed his initial five-year contract with the Flashes in December 2022.

For the upcoming 2024 season, Burns is slated to make $475,000, and in the 2028 extension year, the coach will make $515,000.

The extension of Kent State’s 23rd football coach was announced by Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Randale L. Richmond.

“Kenni has taken over the program during an unprecedented time in the College Football landscape,” Richmond said. “As such, we considered this past season ‘year zero.’ This extension gives him and his staff an opportunity to build the program the right way for sustained success and is a testament to the tremendous confidence we have in the Kent GRIT football era.”

The Kent GRIT football era began last season after previous coach Sean Lewis stepped down to become the offensive coordinator at Colorado.

Burns came to Kent after an extended stint at the University of Minnesota.

He worked as the assistant head coach and the running backs coach for the Golden Gophers.

The coach led Minnesota to the 11th-ranked rushing attack in the nation in 2022 and led the 2019 team (10-3) to its best record since 1904 (13-0). The team also competed in the Outback Bowl that season.

“I am very fortunate and appreciate the opportunity to continue to lead our football team,” Burns said. “My family and I are blessed to work with leaders like President Diacon, Randale Richmond, Greg Glaus, and Jessie Ely, who all have faith in our vision for the program. I remain committed to this university, and I am excited to continue to lead our football team into a new era—the Kent GRIT era. I’m proud to be a Golden Flash and a member of this great university.”

The first year of Burns’ tenure was rocky, as the team finished with a 1-11 record. The team finished last in the Mid-American Conference and did not record an in-conference win.

The season was also highlighted by an appearance on CBS Sports’ “Bottom 25” segment, in which the team was listed as the worst team in college football.

Burns, however, inherited a team that returned only two starters and struggled throughout the season on both sides of the ball.

The defense allowed opponents to score 30 or more points seven times this season. The offense scored that many points once in its lone 38-10 win against Central Connecticut University Sept. 16.

The defensive unit ranked 100th or worse out of 130 teams in scoring defense (119th) by giving up more than 34 points per game, rushing defense (105th), turnovers gained (T-124th) and sacks (T-127th).

The offense did not perform much better.

KSU was the worst team in the nation in scoring offense – the team scored 14.7 points per game during the season.

The offense also ranked low in total offensive yards per game (128th out of 130), rushing yards per game (115th) and passing yards per game (119th).

Looking to the future, Kent State will return most of its players, have more stability on the offensive line, which was highlighted as an issue by Burns throughout the season, and will have a tougher quarterback competition between redshirt senior Mike Alaimo and junior Tommy Ulatowski.

“I think the clay is in place,” Burns said after the season. “I think this year was a great learning experience, not only for our team but for me as a head football coach. There are things that we’ll do next year that we did really well this year. There are things I know that I want to change already. It was a great learning experience for me, and I couldn’t be more excited about the future.”

At the end of last season, Burns looked to improve the roster through recruiting and the transfer portal.

“That is going to be at the forefront of this program,” he said. “We’ve got to first recruit our roster, and make sure we get the right guys back and then build this team the right way. I am really proud of this team; I know the record is what it is, but I said a long time ago that I am throwing that out this year. I want to build the men, and then the rest will take care of itself. I truly believe that, and we are moving in the right direction.”

Burns’ next campaign and second season for the Flashes will begin Aug. 31, when the team takes on Pitt.

Burns worked with considerable losses before his tenure started, but the Kent State Athletics department has full faith in the coach and his ability.

“Coach Burns hit the ground running once he arrived in December 2022, replacing 45 scholarships and assembling a staff and recruiting class in short order,” Richmond said. “We have seen great progress in the classroom, in the community and in leadership on and off the football field. I’m really excited about the direction in which our football program is headed.”

John Hilber is assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
John Hilber, Reporter
John is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a minor in psychology. This is his second year with the KentWired team as a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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