On July 14, 2012, Frank Burns died. Coach Burns was a well-known and respected member of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football Team both as a player while he attended the University and as its winningest head coach. As long-time fans of the program remembered Coach Burns, there were many threads about him on ScarletNation.com including two about two of the most impressive games of his career, the win at Tennessee and the close loss to Alabama. If you are not aware of these games, I will be posting separate links to archive footage of the games as the Athletic Department makes it available.
As is usually the case, one of the posters on ScarletNation.com posted a significant amount of information about Coach Burns. The poster, named Source, is our unofficial historian and resident brain of all things Rutgers. Here are his comments and historical facts that he posted:
“I thought it would be appropriate to post some Frank Burns stuff from his days as a Rutgers student/player, staff football coach and head coach. Part I are some items from his playing days. Some of the items have already been noted by other posters and some have long been forgotten, but hopefully revitalized here. These items are just eclectic collections, plenty of details and items have been left out but I hope you can enjoy these small pieces of Frank Burns career. Part II will be posted at a later time.”
Frank Robert Burns (March 16, 1928 – July 14, 2012)
Rutgers Record during this time: 27-7-0
- 13-0 win at Harvard on 11-2-1946 over AP #17 Harvard;
- 13-7 win over Princeton on 10-11-1947 – (home attendance record of 30,416);
- 22-6 win at Princeton on 10-16-1948 (attendance 41,000 at Palmer Stadium and the first Rutgers win ever in Princeton)
- There were seven Rutgers head coaches who were also Rutgers players: Jack Loud, William VanDyke, Jr., Oliver Mann, Alfred Hitchner, Jack Wallace, Harry Rockafeller and Frank Burns. Except for Wallace and Rockafeller, all also served as team captains.
- The first televised Rutgers game was 2:00 p.m., September 28, 1946, a 13-7 opening loss against Columbia at Baker Field and broadcast by WCBW-TV (changed five weeks later to WCBS-TV). Famed Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen was at the mike doing his first televised football game. Rutgers first TV appearance drew much praise of its quarterback/linebacker and its future coach, “… Catching the eye of Mel Allen, ace sportscaster who did the vocalizing on the CBS telecast of the contest, was Frank Burns. Allen was deeply impressed by Burns’ defensive ability as a linebacker. After the first few plays, in which Burns accounted for most of those tackles, Allen was lavish in his praise of the Scarlet sophomore. In fact, he talked about Burns so much that occasionally he mentioned that he realized he was saying a lot about the boy but had no choice because of the great game he was playing.” – Targum, October 1, 1946. Ironically, TVs were just being re-introduced after the war in 1946 and commercial sets were not yet available in New Brunswick to see “Flingin’ Frank” Burns and Rutgers until five weeks after the 1946 opener.
- Several injuries in the half back corps gave freshman Herm Hering his chance to start the October 5, 1946 game against John Hopkins with sophomore Frank Burns at quarterback according to the Targum from earlier that week. It was like old times for the young players. Hering and Burns were All-Staters from Roselle Park High school where Hering played half back and Burns was the quarterback. Rutgers blanked John Hopkins 53-0 at home before 7,000.
- Rutgers Dean of Men Earl Reed Silvers in his October 17, 1947 Targum column, in part, added, “…We all know that some persons, presumably Rutgers men, painted the cannon and other Princeton property on the Monday night preceding the game…. A plane dropped some posters over College Avenue just before the game, two of our fraternities’ displays were damaged at the same time and while the game was in progress the tiger skin in front of Delta Upsilon was sliced with a knife and the replica of Frank Burns carried away.” But in the end 200-300 Princeton fans stayed after the game and many attended the dance at the gymnasium and the atmosphere was friendly and congenial.
- The musical “High Button Shoes” was written by a local New Brunswick resident about a con artist (actor Phil Silvers) who bets heavily against Rutgers in their annual game against Princeton. Rutgers leads at halftime and Silvers goes to the locker room hoping he can convince the Rutgers team not to try hard against the Tigers in the second half (so he can obviously win his bet). That’s when Phil Silver sings “Nobody Ever Died For Dear Old Rutgers” which is the context of the song. Silvers later loses when Rutgers wins 40-0.
The musical opened in October of 1947 and the head of the Home News bought Rutgers football team members and students tickets. The January 16, 1948 Targum reported three days earlier that “Brunswick goes to Broadway” as the musical “High Button Shoes” was performed to a theatre full of Rutgers students and included a scene where Phil Silvers introduced Frank “Bo Bo” Burns as the example of what becomes of valiant Rutgers players. “…Swathed in bandages and walking with the aid of a crutch, the Rutgers ‘T’ thespian was helped on stage by comedian Joey Faye. Loud laughter greeted Burns when the audience realized his identity. The laugh outburst proved contagious, Frankie being unable to speak his lines in the wake of Silver’s ad libs. At the show’s end, Burns joined by fellow backfield star, Herm Hering, shared the spotlight with Silvers in a low bow to the audience. Their teammates looked on even more enviously when, after the show, Burns and Hering went stepping with a pair of ‘High Button’ high steppers. As a reward for their good sportsmanship, the Rutgers duo, plus their show girl dates, were treated to a round of night clubbing that featured New York’s Copacabana.” Thirty years later Frank Burns was head coach of Rutgers and named Herm Hering’s son, Robert, as starting quarterback against Penn State at Giants Stadium.
- According to the December 12, 1948 Targum, “Latest additions to the country’s host of January 1 hangover chasers is the ‘Truman Bowl,’ which is tentatively slated to be uncovered in the backyard of the Capitol Dome. Formulators of the now nebulous plan aim to fill their chinaware by matching a team of selected college warriors against an array of professional performers. Frank Burns was among the first signal-callers singled out by the promoters for an invitation to mix it up in the bowl contest… Several other Scarlet performers, among them, Frank Thropp, have indicated desires to participate…” The Washington, D.C. event never took place but Frank Burns did play in the televised East-West Shrine Game in San Francisco on New Year’s Day.
- On September 1, 1949 Frank Burns played one last game with the Eastern College All-Stars who defeated the NFL champion New York Giants 28-13 in a Herald Tribune charity night game at the Polo Grounds before 32,094. The September 16, 1949 Targum said Burns, “…was chosen (MVP) outstanding player because of his line-backing and general defensive prowess by the sports writers present.” In his career, he threw for 2,751 yards and was at least an honorable mention on most All-American Teams.
“This is the complement piece to Franks Burns players items. Now some coaching items. It is not thorough but there have been plenty of threads about the Tennessee game, the Alabama game, etc. These are just some of the lesser known things. Some have been mentioned, others not.”
Frank Robert Burns
Head Coach: 1973-1983
First in Rutgers coaching wins and .643 winning %
- Despite being drafted by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns of the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), Frank Burns returned to Rutgers to be the freshmen team backfield coach and also joined the semi-pro Jersey City Giants. The Eagles and the Browns wound up champions of their respective leagues that year.
- Frank Burns went from Rutgers player in 1945-48 to assistant freshman coach in 1949-50. He became the youngest head coach of a major university in America when he left Rutgers to coach John Hopkins from 1951-1952 and went 6-9-1. He was 23 ½ . Burns returned to Rutgers as freshman coach in 1953-54 and became the varsity backfield coach the following two seasons before leaving to coach at Chatham High School in 1957. He returned as backfield coach from 1962-67 and became associate head coach in 1968 before taking over from Dr. John Bateman in 1973. “‘There was no greater, more devoted player,’ said Bateman. ‘He is today the same as a coach… diligent, intelligent, dedicated,'” according to the September 25, 1970 Targum.
- The September 27, 1969 Targum picked the All-Time Rutgers vs. Princeton Football Team 1869-1969: end Bob Simms ’60; end Walt Winika ’36; tackle Maurice Bullard ’35; tackle Bob Nash ’16; guard Tom Mullowney ’56; guard Fred Decker 1896; halfback Bill Austin ’59; center Alex Kroll ’62; quarterback Frank Burns ’49; halfback Bryant Mitchell ’69; fullback Bill Tranavitch ’40; kicker John DeWitt 1886; coach Harvey Harman 1938-41, 46-55.
- Rutgers shut out Princeton 29-0 and the September 30, 1969 Targum reported, “Rich Policastro in his last five starts of 1968 (when he took over) broke records held by current offensive coach Frank Burns including: yardage (994), touchdowns (15); touchdowns in a game (4); yards passing, game (309).” He also went 24 of 35 (both school passing records) in the Centennial Game.
- The Daily Princetonian predicted a 40-13 Tiger victory over the Scarlet Knights for the September 25, 1971 game. The Associated Press guessed a 45-0 shutout and only William Barrett and Mike Balint on the entire Targum sports staff took Rutgers. They were rewarded with a 33-18 upset win. “Coach Burns devised a fantastic game plan for this week,” said quarterback Leo Gasienica who had his choice of attending either Rutgers or Princeton.
- Rutgers broke Delaware’s 20-game winning streak with a 24-7 defeat of the Blue Hens on October 20, 1973. J. J. Jennings’ 131 rushing yards before a home crowd broke the Rutgers career mark and coach Frank Burns’ fourth win in five tries earned him UPI Coach of the Week honors.
- Rutgers was less two days away from its first game ever played out west – a November 10, 1973 contest at Air Force’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado when the Targum reported Rutgers president Edward Bloustein, “… said that Burns has been issued a three year contract extending through the 1976 football season and that Grunniger has been elevated from his “acting” status and has been permanently hired as a member of the faculty. Burns had been operating on a one year contract.”
- “Rutgers coach Frank Burns preferred not to play up the fact that both touchdowns scored by the Scarlet Knights during the 13-3 win over Navy were sent in from the bench. ‘I call some plays that lose 10 yards too,’ smiled Burns. Actually, Burns explained that his quarterbacks do call most of the plays. Rutgers has now won eight straight games, longest streak of any major college team in the nation… only Ball State can boast of a similar win streak,” according to the September 14, 1976 Targum.
- “There has been just one previous occasion in his four years as head coach at Rutgers that Frank Burns has sought not only to beat an opponent but to embarrass them. Not since their last visit to Bethlehem, PA, a stretch that has now spanned 12 games, has the Scarlet Knights lost,” according to the October 15, 1976 Targum. “I vividly remember a lot of things from the Lehigh game,’ said Burns. “I remember as if it were today. With 57 seconds left, Lehigh ahead 31-20, Lehigh called time-out and kicked a field goal.”
- The October 15, 1976 Targum reported, “During the 1973 season, his first as head coach, Burns witnessed the worst beating ever handed one of his squads, when Colgate rolled up a 42-0 victory at Rutgers Stadium. When the Red Raiders returned to Rutgers Stadium, the following year, Burns felt it only fitting that he comply in a similar manner. The result was 781 yard offensive show in which the Scarlet Knights retaliated by scoring more points than any Rutgers team since 1949 in a 62-21 win.” It wasn’t until December 4, 2008 when Rutgers thumped Louisville 63-14 and topped that performance.
- “It wasn’t hard for Scarlet coach Frank Burns to evaluate the unit that line coach Ted Cottrell, defensive back coaches Pete Savino and Bob Naso have molded into an outstanding mixture of young and old. ‘This is the best defensive football team I’ve ever been involved with,’ declared Burns afterward,” in the November 18, 1974 Targum. “The partisan crowd of 13,500 were aware of the defensive exploits. They honored Bob Naso’s crew vociferously every time the penurious unit completed their assignments.” This was the start of standing ovations and chants of “Defense! Defense!” each time an effective Rutgers defense left the field and would become a Rutgers Stadium tradition for the rest of the decade.
- Greg Schiano (11-2 in 2006) joined Frank Burns (11-0 in 1976) as the only Rutgers head coaches to win the Walter Camp Football Foundation National Coach of the Year which is voted on by the coaches and sports information directors of the 119 division I-A programs.
- The coaches in the 1978 Garden State Bowl were Frank Burns (78-43-1) for Rutgers and Frank Kush (173-57-1) of Arizona State. Both still have the most all-time coaching victories for their respective universities.
- Coach Frank Burns recorded the 75th of his career 78 Rutgers victories and surpassed Harvey Harman’s 74 (1938-41, 46-55) for most Rutgers coaching victories with a 20-14 win at Richmond on October 30, 1982. His is also tops with a .643 winning percentage.
- Foster Sanford was head coach for 92 games and Rutgers shut out their opponents in 30 of them. Harvey Harman presided over 27 shutouts and Frank Burns 17.
- The only known Rutgers head coach to have his picture taken on campus with a former United States President was Frank Burns who stood in a group photo on April 8, 1983 when Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. made speeches at the Eagleton Institute of Politics and the Nicholas Music Center. It was published in that fall’s 1983 football media guide.
- The current string of televised Rutgers head coaching shows was started by Frank Burns when the Cable Television Network (CTN-TV) premiered the “Rutgers Sports Review” on November 11, 18 and 25, 1983, the Fridays before the last three games of the season at 9:00 pm and syndicated to the public television New Jersey Network.
- The Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey was established in 1988 and the first inauguration was in 1993. The inductees were Vince Lombardi, Franco Harris, Milt Campbell, Super Bowl XXI (Giants 39-20 win over the Broncos) and “The First College Football Game ? Rutgers vs. Princeton.” Since then, Rutgers players Paul Robeson (1995), Deron Cherry (1996) and Frank Burns (2003) have also been inducted.