Bruce Burnett announces retirement as head coach at Navy effective October 1

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Stacie Michaud (U.S. Naval Academy)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. —  Navy wrestling head coach Bruce Burnett, who wrapped up his 13th year at the Academy last spring by leading the Mids to a second-place finish at the EIWA Championship while being named the EIWA Coach of the Year, has announced he will retire effective Oct. 1.  

Brian Antonelli, who is in his eighth season at the Naval Academy, will serve as the interim head coach for the 2013-14 season.

“The values of honor, courage, determination and commitment quickly come to mind when I reflect on Coach Burnett,” said Naval Academy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk.  “Bruce has been our staff’s benchmark for Academy values throughout his distinguished and nationally respected tenure at Navy.  Those who wrestled for him will attest to his brilliance as a coach, but even more significant has been his educational influence on their personal and professional development.  So many are proud and grateful for the role he has played in their lives.  We will miss Coach Burnett and his lovely wife Karen very much.”

“For 13 years I have had the privilege of challenging hundreds of young men on the mat as they prepare for careers of service and leadership,” said Burnett.  “When I came to the Academy in October of 2000, I envisioned this position as a five to seven-year commitment.  However, after experiencing the focus of purposeful work and the quality of young men entering the wrestling room, I knew my professional work life would conclude at the Naval Academy.

“At every level, I have experienced on-going support and I commend Chet Gladchuk for his leadership, as well as the Academy leadership, for the direction and important role of athletics within the Academy setting.  Within the wrestling program, we have over 23 Navy SEALs and many more Marines and Naval Officers who have been or are on active duty.  I do believe that Navy wrestling was a significant contributor in the preparation and readiness for the leadership role they have today.  

“I have been blessed with a strong and dedicated coaching staff, supportive and involved alumni and wonderful families who have entrusted us with their young men.  Undoubtedly, it will be the day to day contact with those athletes and relationships forged that I will miss the most.  I am excited for the future of Navy wrestling and I know we have the support of the athletic department and the personnel in place to keep the program moving forward.  I have the utmost respect for Brian Antonelli, who not only is a graduate of the Naval Academy, but has served alongside me in coaching these young men.  Without a doubt, the program is in great hands moving forward with Brian leading the way.”

One of the most revered coaches this sport has seen, it’s no surprise that Burnett has been able to uphold the Navy wrestling tradition that John Schultz began in 1909 and has been carried through by the likes of the legendary Ray Swartz and Ed Peery.  Simply put, Bruce Burnett is a winner.  At every level of the sport, Burnett has seen success.

During his 13-year stay at the Academy, he led the Midshipmen to a 113-57 record (.665) that featured six-straight seasons of 10 or more wins from 2002-07.  The Midshipmen have flourished under his guidance, finishing among the top five at the EIWA Championship in seven of the last nine years, winning eight individual EIWA crowns and placing among the top 25 at the NCAA Championship in three of the last seven seasons.  He guided Navy to an 18th-place finish at the 2007 and ‘08 NCAA Championships, its highest NCAA finish since placing 13th more than two decades ago (1990).

Along the way, he helped mold 10 EIWA Champions, 50 NCAA qualifiers and 10 wrestlers who garnered All-America recognition under his tutelage including two-time All-American and Navy’s all-time winningest wrestler Bryce Saddoris (‘11).  Saddoris also became the first wrestler in school history to win 30 or more matches in each of his four seasons and finished his career with a staggering 147 wins.  

“Coach Burnett was the reason why I came to the Academy,” said Saddoris, a 1st Lt. in the Marine Corps who is stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Fla.  “The integrity and honesty with which he leads his life and coaches sets him apart from everyone else.

“When I was at NAPS, he sat all of us down and asked us what our personal goals were.  I told him I wanted to be an All-American and be a national champion.  He told me that if I trusted in him, he would get me there.  There was not a time I went out on the mat unprepared.  He knew when to pump the brakes and when to step on the gas.  He is the reason why I succeeded at Navy and even now wrestling for the Marine Corps.  I owe everything to him.

“I consider Coach Burnett a father figure, a father away from home.  He cared as much about our lives off the mat as he did on the mat.  He truly cared about me as a man.  To this day, we talk a couple of times a month.  I call him for advice about wrestling, but also in my day to day life.  You just cannot get any better than Coach Burnett.”

He also helped Joe Baker, Matt Stolpinski and Ed Prendergast earn All-America status in 2008, marking the first time since 1967 that Navy put three wrestlers atop the All-America stage in a single season.

Last winter, six of Navy’s 10 wrestlers garnered top-five finishes to guide the Mids to a second-place finish at the EIWA Championship.  It was the program’s strongest finish since 2007 and Burnett was rewarded by being named the EIWA Coach of the Year.  All six of those wrestlers earned automatic bids to the NCAA Championship, including 2013 graduate Dan Miller who was crowned the EIWA Champion at 285 pounds.  Miller is Navy’s first EIWA individual champion since 2009 (Joe Baker, Bryce Saddoris) and the first Navy heavyweight to win a title since Ed Prendergast won back-to-back crowns in 2007 and ‘08.  

Additionally, the Mids produced a 6-1 dual meet record that featured a win over nationally-ranked programs Maryland (22-18) and Rutgers (19-15), while Navy also captured its 13th consecutive win over rival Army (22-10).

Burnett is one of the most well-known coaches on the national scene, having spent the bulk of his coaching career at the highest level.  Burnett helped prepare the United States’ elite athletes for world and Olympic competition as the national freestyle coach beginning in 1992.  His resume is nothing short of impressive. His teams won five medals at the 1996 Olympic Games (three gold, one silver and one bronze), five at the 2000 Olympic Games (one gold, two silver and two bronze) and eight medals at the 1999 Pan American Games (six gold, one silver and one bronze). Additionally, his teams captured World Team Titles in 1993 and 1995, the World Cup of Wrestling in 1993, ‘94, ‘95, ‘97, ‘98, ‘99 and ‘00 and the Pan American Championship in 1993, ‘94, ‘95 and ‘96.

During that time, Burnett coached Kurt Angle, Tom Brands, Kendal Cross, Kevin Jackson, Brandon Slay and John Smith to Olympic gold medals, while cornering Terry Brands, Tom Brands, Angle, Jackson and Smith to World Championships.

“Coach Burnett is a contagious guy,” said John Smith, a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and all-time winningest coach in Oklahoma State history.  “You always wanted to be around him, and he’s very motivating. He inspired me throughout my wrestling career. When I started coaching, I learned so much from him. Even today, I use several of his ideas and techniques. He’s a great man, a great coach and a great friend.” 

“Bruce Burnett was a coach that came along at the right time for me,” said Iowa head coach Tom Brands, an Olympic Gold Medalist and three-time National Champion.  “His relationships were built on drive and compassion, and he laid things out simply. He was fiercely loyal in the corner and out of it. I remember one time at the World Cup when FILA tried to have a closed door meeting with only Terry and I and he stepped in and basically said, ‘not on my watch’. You came to expect that kind of back-up from him.  When Dave Schultz was shot and killed, we were in Krasnoyarsk, Russia getting ready for competition. He broke the news to us. Dave and Bruce were very tight. Bruce made it all right. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t get enough credit.”

“Bruce Burnett was a meticulous coach and a great friend,” said Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands, an Olympic Bronze Medalist and two-time World Champion. “He is someone who cared to understand individuals. He would come beside the athlete to determine what was best. He’s a top notch man and a top notch coach.”

He was named the Freestyle Wrestling Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1996 and was named the United States Olympic Committee Elite Coach of the Year in 1996. 

As Navy’s head coach, Burnett remained active in the national and international coaching scene, serving as the head coach of the United States World Cup Team at the 2002 Freestyle World Cup of Wrestling Championship, the U.S. World University Games Head Coach in 2005, the FISU University World Championship Coach in 2010, the Pan American Games Coach in 2011 and the FILA Junior World Championship Coach in 2012.

An opportunity for friends of Navy wrestling to express their appreciation to Coach Burnett and Karen will be on Friday, Feb. 21, prior to the 57th edition of the Army-Navy wrestling match in the Bo Coppedge Room in Alumni Hall. Details to follow in the near future.