MSU coach Burton all business but with a fun side

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Before Ron Burton became Michigan State’s defensive line coach in 2013, he spent 10 years in the same position at the Air Force Academy.

It’s easy to see that influence on Burton.

He’s all business, shows great respect to those around him and often begins most of his responses to questions, “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir.”

In other words, you can tell he spent 10 years at the Air Force Academy.

But ask those who’ve worked with him and you know Burton was a stand-up guy whether or not he ever coached a day in Colorado Springs.

“First off, he’s a tremendous man,” said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, whose team heads to Spartan Stadium on Saturday to face No. 4 Michigan State. “He and his family are pure class. He brings great energy every single day in practice and is just a diligent and dedicated worker. Loyal. Stand-up person. A guy that has an awful lot of pedigree.

“Just an absolutely wonderful person and terrific coach. He did a marvelous, fantastic job here at the Air Force Academy.”

That fantastic job has continued at Michigan State. While the Spartans have become one of the top defenses in the country, the line has been an integral part of it.

Fifth-year senior Shilique Calhoun was named Big Ten defensive lineman of the year in Burton’s first season, and was a second-team All-American last year. Burton also helped mold Marcus Rush, who started 53 career games and is with the 49ers.

This season’s defensive line is one of the best in the nation. Calhoun leads the way for a talented group that has 11 sacks in two games, and the depth of talent is impressive.

Sophomore Malik McDowell is an emerging star, while fifth-year senior Lawrence Thomas might have benefited the most from Burton’s guidance. He came to Michigan State as a linebacker before playing fullback in 2012. By the spring of 2013, he was on the defensive line and started at tackle last year before moving to end this season.

“From a simplistic way, being able to do more things in a shorter period of time, from the Xs and Os portion of it, to also understanding the kids in a personal way when dealing with issues as a student and an officer,” Burton explained about the difference in coaching at a service academy. “This is what guys are grooming to do, so you know they have a bigger picture in life, you know they already have a direction. They already know where they want to go, we’re just trying to help them get there a little faster.”

And the values those players portrayed has rubbed off on Burton.

“Every last bit of it,” he said. “The integrity piece, the character — that’s part of our fiber as the Burton family.”

He attempts to instill that in Michigan State’s players, and uses many of the same approaches to coaching now as he did then.

That’s not to say Burton doesn’t know how to have fun, and that is important for his players.

When Michigan State became known for dancing to “Type of Way” by Rich Homie Quan during their Rose Bowl run in 2013, it was Burton who had players laughing as he danced following the victory at Nebraska.

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And the fun-loving nature is still there.

One example came up Wednesday when he described what the Air Force staff learned from the Michigan State staff when they shared ideas and strategies in 2012. Burton talked about how Michigan State focused on CATS, and that he took that back to Air Force.


“Yes. Crimes Against the Team,” Burton said. “Loafs. Bad techniques. Missed assignments. Things like that.”

It drew a smile from Burton and a chuckle from the reporters. Later, as Burton talked about the play of sophomore defensive end Demetrius Cooper, he said, “He is M.A.P-ing. He is making a lot of plays.”

To which he was asked, “You want no CATS and more MAPS?”

“Amen,” Burton said.

He smiled big again and everyone laughed.

The personality he was so loved for at Air Force and is at Michigan State showed, and it will be at the center of Saturday’s matchup.

But even with everything he took from his days at Air Force, there’s no mistaking his mindset.

“I was a part of that program ... it’s something I will carry with me for a lifetime, and our family has a big part of our history out there,” Burton said. “Now I’m part of the Michigan State program. We’ll talk about that after the game.”