The independent news website of The Kent Stater & TV2


The independent news website of The Kent Stater & TV2


The independent news website of The Kent Stater & TV2


Follow KentWired on Instagram
Today’s Events

‘We are going to win MAC championships’: New football coach comes in with big plans

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

New coach Kenni Burns inherits a football program that finished 5-7  overall last season and is predicted to finish last in the Mid-American Conference in the 2023 MAC Football Head Coaches Preseason Poll.

For Burns, leading this team is “a dream come true.”

“I am extremely humbled, excited and proud,” said Burns, who the university announced as the program’s 23rd head football coach in December 2022. “A lot of guys want to be head coaches, but every once in a while, you find a university that meets what you are looking for.”

Burns takes over for five-year coach Sean Lewis, who led the program to a MAC East win and its first-ever bowl championship. Lewis is now offensive coordinator at the University of Colorado.

Burns is in his 15th year of collegiate coaching and coached most recently at the University of Minnesota. He joined Minnesota in 2017 as the running backs coach and was named the team’s assistant head coach in 2019.

In his time with the Golden Gophers, the team went 40-27 with a perfect 4-0 record in bowl games.

The team’s best record came in 2019, where it went 10-2 and finished the season with a 31-24 win over No. 12 Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Burns expressed his gratitude for the players at the University of Minnesota during a December press conference where he was introduced.

“There are a lot of people to thank… I want to start with the players back at the University of Minnesota,” Burns said. “Those players made me a better husband, a better father and a better coach.”

Burns’ experience with victory

Before becoming a collegiate coach, Burns was a running back at Indiana University, where he played from 2003-2006 and received the Indiana Iron Man Award – an award given to the player who played the most snaps that season.

Burns started coaching shortly after his playing career and credited his start to Terry Hoeppner, who coached him at Indiana.

“Once I got done playing, Terry called me and said, ‘I think you would be an excellent football coach,’” Burns said during a press conference in August. “So I knew right away that that was something I wanted to do, and once I got in it at Millersville University, there was no turning back, but it has been a great journey.”

In 2007, Burns began his coaching journey as the running backs coach at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, a Division II team. The team went 3-8 that season.

Burns moved to Southern Illinois the following year to become the tight ends and full backs coach.

The Salukis went 20-5 in Burns’ time with the team and were 2008 co-champions of the Missouri Valley Football Conference before winning it outright in 2009.

In 2010, Burns moved to North Dakota State University as the wide receivers coach.

In his four years there, the team had two undefeated seasons, with a total record of 43-2, and won three conference championships and three straight FCS national championships.

Burns was next hired at the University of Wyoming as the wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

Before his time with Minnesota, Burns became the running backs coach for Western Michigan during the 2016 season.

The Broncos finished the season with a 13-1 record and had an undefeated 8-0 record in Mid-American Conference competition. The team, which finished the season as the 26th-ranked team in the nation, won the MAC but lost in the Cotton Bowl to #8 Wisconsin.

Burns coached under “life-changer” P.J. Fleck at WMU and followed him to Minnesota.

“He’s the definition of a servant-leader,” Burns said. “He made sure that all of his journeys would be to get me standing here. And every day, he demonstrated that with how he led me to be a better man, a better coach and a better father.”

In 2019, Burns became the assistant coach at Minnesota. He stayed in that position until his Kent State move.

Burns said his decision to come to KSU began with the people.

“The people that have been here and have had success talked about the foundation of people that were here and how they believed in this program, how the athletic department was connected and supporting each other, and that is what I believe in,” Burns said. “When I met the [university] president, the [athletic director] and the committee – it made it more clear to me that this was the place where I needed to be.”

Rushing to the wins

Last season, Burns coached the nation’s No. 16 rushing unit by yards per game.

During his six-year stint at Minnesota, the team averaged more than 170 yards per game and never had a season under 2,000 total rushing yards.

Running backs excelled in Burns’ system. Rodney Smith became Minnesota’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards and is second on Minnesota’s career rushing yards list.

Smith was not drafted in the 2020 NFL draft but signed with the Carolina Panthers that offseason.

Mohammed Ibrahim was a first-team all Big Ten member, an AP Third-team All-American, and was 2020’s Big Ten Running Back of the Year under Burns’s coaching.

Ibrahim went undrafted but signed with the Detroit Lions shortly after the draft.

Kent State was not far behind Minnesota last season, with the Flashes finishing 22nd in rushing yards per game in 2022.

In the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Kent State was the third-ranked team in the nation in yards per game, averaging 283 and 248.7 yards, respectively.

“Our style of play is not going to change,” Burns said. “It’s going to be ‘Flash Fast.’ We are going to bring our defense along with that, and our special teams will do the same thing.”

Building off past success

In 2019, Kent State finished the season 7-6 and won the Frisco Bowl 51-41 over Utah State.

After a shortened 3-1 season in 2020, Kent State won the MAC East in 2021 with a 7-7 record. The team lost the conference championship game and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl that year.

Burns looks to create success and a team based on “grit.”

“That’s where [grit] comes from,” Burns said. “It’s the idea of growing, responding, doing it with integrity and doing it together. We can create great things, and that’s what we’re going to do here.”

In his first press conference in December, Burns explained his plans to create a successful football program at Kent.

“Academically, we’re going to do what I call ‘plus three’ – just be three points better than you were last semester,” Burns said. “Athletically, we’re going to change our best every day and just be a little bit better than we were the day before.

“Socially, we’re going to make sure they understand that they play for the name on the front, but they represent the name on the back. Spiritually, we’re going to know what serving and giving is – giving back to our community, giving back to each other and being the best version of ourselves.”

Burns said he looks forward to a bright future with the Flashes and many accomplishments at Kent State.

“We are going to win MAC championships, go to BCS bowl games and bring Kent State to the national scene,” he said.

John Hilber is a reporter.
Contact him at [email protected]

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
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].

Comments (0)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *