For much of his life, Jimmy Burrow has been conditioned and trained to prepare for the worst.
It’s part and parcel to being a football coach.
What do you call if the offense shows this look with this personnel? Who’s next up if the starting free safety gets hurt? Can we get by with this recruiting class if we don’t sign at least two cornerbacks? Will I keep my job if we don’t win 10 games this fall?
Those are the kinds of questions Burrow has dealt with throughout his career as a player and then a coach.
It’s been a different kind year in 2019 for Burrow. Instead of breaking down game film, he has his own weekly segments on radio stations around Baton Rouge. Instead hopping planes for recruiting trips, he and his wife Robin have well-plotted out routines on how to get from The Plains to every destination in the SEC. Instead of cutting up clips to show in team meetings, he’s appearing on pregame shows as a proud dad.
Instead of wondering how can he stop this — be it a specific play, player, offense, or team — Burrow is trying to figure out how he keep this feeling going forever.
Jimmy Burrow, a football lifer, has hung up the whistle and has never been happier.
“Everything has just come together. All these things have aligned just right,” Burrow said. “It’s been remarkable.
“I can’t imagine anything better right now. It really has been almost magical how it has all worked out.”
Jimmy Burrow is not prone to describing things as ‘magical.’ Pragmatic to a fault perhaps, but never given to emotional outbursts or chalking up events to factors other the end result of preparation and hard work.
But that was before this fall, a mythical five months on the bayou that saw his son emerge as the Heisman Trophy favorite and become a legendary figure half-a-country away from his hometown.
Joe Burrow, the Athens High School graduate and former Buckeye, is now the best-known college football player in the country, and has the No. 2 LSU Tigers at 12-0 and playing in the SEC Championship game on Saturday in Atlanta. He’s already being talked about as the potential top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He’s been featured in a cover story at Sports Illustrated. He just had an epic send off on Senior Night in Tiger Stadium.
And Jimmy and Robin have had a front-row seat for the entire ride. Jimmy retired in February for this opportunity.
And yes, he’s retired. Not on hiatus.
“I am retired,” he reiterates on a cold, late-November night in Bowling Green.
He’s there in northwest Ohio watching the Ohio Bobcats play a midweek MAC game, wearing a black leather Ohio lettermen style jacket. He’s spent the past couple of days hanging with the Bobcats, and it reminds him of all things he has missed when he made that decision in February to tell long-time boss and friend Frank Solich that he was giving it up.
Jimmy Burrow still loves the Bobcats, still loves those players, still loves those coaches he’s spent so much time with, and still feels the juices ramp up when kickoff approaches.
But he’s got a new job now.
“You never say never,” Jimmy Burrow begins, “But there’s no intentions here in January for me to go to the (NCAA Coaches) convention and start looking around.
“The other thing is we want to stay in Athens,” he added. “Why would I want to go interview at wherever? That’s not what our family wants to do right now.”
Burrow made that decision in February because of a sense of family. He owed it to his son to be there for his final college football season. He owed it to Robin, perhaps more so, as she navigated the travel for the most part on her own during the 2018 season when Joe Burrow took over as the LSU starter after transferring from OSU.
“It wasn’t right,” he said. “I needed to be there.”
Now his days are filled with ‘Joe Burrow’ business. And business is booming. Robin still works as a principal at Eastern (Meigs) Local Elementary, and while she gets up early and leaves for work, Jimmy settles in with handling the requests.
The media requests have grown exponentially throughout the season. Calls, email, texts, proposals all come in a steady stream that has only grown stronger as Joe Burrow’s season has continued unabated.
Joe has tasked his parents with handling the myriad of requests that have come in — for comments and tickets and appearances and endorsements and everything else that comes with being an expected high NFL draft pick.
Jimmy Burrow is no stranger to high-level college football. He played for Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers. He’s a former pro player in the NFL and the CFL. He coached at Washington State, Iowa State and Nebraska before settling in for a 14-year stint with Solich at Ohio. His two older sons — Jamie and Dan — both played at Nebraska.
Even all of that failed to prepare him for the sheer volume of attention that Joe’s final season at LSU has wrought.
“It has been overwhelming. Initially you don’t understand the impact that football has on LSU fans, in the state of Louisiana,” Jimmy Burrow said. “We didn’t anticipate that.”
Jimmy and Robin are nearly as recognizable in and around Baton Rouge as Joe is. The whole family gathers weekly for a ‘Burrow Gang’ tailgate, which has become a popular stopping point for the television crews prior to kickoff.
“They’re filming our tailgate,” Burrow said with a quizzical look on his face. “I mean it’s okay with me. Our friends think it’s cool. Let’s go I guess.”
Together, Jimmy and Robin have become unofficial promoters of all things Athens and The Plains. They’ve been asked to describe Joe’s hometown a million times, and describe the outpouring of support from those who knew Joe as a Bulldog.
They’ve become celebrities, of a sort, on their own.
“Joe gets on us a little about all of that stuff,” Jimmy Burrow said, grinning. “But Joe…he’s never sought that. He understands all the people wanting to know about everything and things like that.
“But we enjoy sharing the journey, not only with our family but our friends in Athens,” he added. “I don’t think anybody looks at us and goes ‘They’re too big for their britches.’ They know who I am and who Robin is, and people know who Joe is.”
And the Burrows know where home is, and where it will remain. The magical season’s not over yet, but whenever this ride does come to an end Jimmy Burrow said the family knows where its roots are.
Earlier this fall, Jimmy introduced the notion of moving — full time — to Louisiana to Joe. It never got off the ground.
“He looked at me with this ‘Joe’ look. He said: ‘Dad (The Plains) is my home. You can’t leave. I won’t have a home to come back to.’
“Right then, I looked at Robin and said we’re here for the long run.”
Everything has changed for Jimmy Burrow over the last 10 months, but that one constant has remained. He used to be a defensive coordinator, and now he’s solely Joe Burrow’s dad.
But they’re both from The Plains.