Long, long before Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Burrow famously transferred from Ohio State to LSU, his father, Jimmy Burrow, not so famously twice transferred among colleges himself.
Jimmy’s transfers all those years ago didn’t cause much of a stir nationally, but hometown fans in Amory, Mississippi, were shocked.
That’s because Jimmy first transferred from nearby Mississippi State, where his daddy, James, played basketball, to Ole Miss to play football and baseball.
“I grew up a huge Mississippi State fan, hated Ole Miss,” Jimmy Burrow said. “Nobody could believe I was going to Ole Miss.”
He didn’t stay there long. Jimmy Burrow then transferred from Ole Miss to Nebraska, where he would become a standout defensive back for Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers.
That was before a playing career in the NFL and the Canadian Football League and then a 37-year college coaching career that ended last spring.
You see, Jimmy Burrow, who was most recently the defensive coordinator and associate head coach at Ohio University, quit coaching so he could follow, in-person, son Joe’s senior season at LSU. Jimmy will be in the visitor’s section at Scott Field Saturday, cheering the second-ranked Tigers against the favorite team of his childhood.
Jimmy Burrow, talking over the phone Tuesday morning from his parents home in Amory, chuckled at some of the memories.
“There was no such thing as a transfer portal back then,” he said. “I was way ahead of my time.”
Jimmy Burrow had been a three-sport standout at Amory in the old Little Ten Conference. He played quarterback as a senior and was being recruited by both State and Ole Miss before a broken arm ended his season.
He planned to walk-on at State and enrolled as a part-time student in summer school, but Ole Miss kept recruiting him and extended him the opportunity to play both football and baseball. He started at defensive back on the Ole Miss freshman team – the first game was against LSU – and was looking forward to playing the rest of his college career as a Rebel.
But his high school coach Jimmy Walden had joined the staff at Nebraska and offered him a scholarship there. Jimmy Burrow went in to see then-Ole Miss head coach Billy Kinard and tell him of the interest at Nebraska and ask for a scholarship at Ole Miss. Kinard didn’t offer one and Jimmy indeed transferred.
Funny story: In the 1974 Sugar Bowl, Jimmy Burrow made a key tackle in a goal-line stand, helping the Cornhuskers defeat Florida 13-10. In a post-game TV interview, Jimmy wished Kinard, “Happy New Year from the Sugar Bowl.”
During the 2018 football season – Joe Burrow’s first at LSU – Jimmy Burrow continued to coach the defense at Ohio under Frank Solich while his wife, Robin, traveled every week to watch LSU play. Jimmy got to go to the Fiesta Bowl where Joe threw for 394 yards and four touchdown is a 40-32 LSU victory over UCF.
It was then Jimmy saw what he was missing. He tail-gated across the street from the stadium, sat in the stands with all the other LSU parents and his wife, and thoroughly enjoyed himself.
“That was when I began to think about doing what I eventually did,” Jimmy Burrow said. “I told Frank (Solich) what I was thinking about doing. I really don’t think he thought I was going to do it. But my wife and I talked about it in February and she was all for it. I just didn’t want to miss Joe’s senior year. I wanted to see it, enjoy it with him. I’m not saying I don’t miss the coaching. I love it. This was the first August in 50 years I haven’t been on the field as either a player or a coach.
“But when I was in the stands at Texas and Joe converted that third and 17 play, I can’t imagine myself having been anywhere else than right there.”
In other words, no regrets for Jimmy Burrow, who also got to attend the Manning Passing Academy with Joe where he and Archie Manning became friends and could talk about watching their sons play and the angst it can cause.
“It’s a lot harder watching your son from the stands than coaching or playing on the field,” Jimmy Burrow said.
There has been far more joy than angst this season.
Through six games, all LSU victories, Joe Burrow ranks fourth nationally in completions with 148, second in passing yards (2,157) and touchdowns (25) and first with his 79.6 completion percentage.
“Joe always has seemed to have a confidence about what he was doing, no matter the sport,” Jimmy Burrow said. “He had a lot of natural ability in baseball, basketball and football. He was always a leader. He was on the AAU circuit in basketball and a lot of people thought that was his future.”
Now, Joe Burrow has found his future. Archie Manning strongly believes Jimmy Burrow’s son has a future in the NFL.
“He’s a big strong guy who plays with a lot of confidence,” Archie Manning said. “He’s really accurate, really smart. I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll play in the NFL.”
Meanwhile, Jimmy Burrow is finding more benefits to retirement. He is spending this week in Amory with his parents. It is the longest time he has spent in Amory since he left for Lincoln, Nebraska, all those years ago. Monday, his father, the former MSU basketball player, whipped him at golf.
“He’s 89 and he shoots his age all the time,” Jimmy Burrow said of James, the former Bulldog point guard. “I’m not gonna tell you what I shot.”
Another funny story: James Burrow, Jimmy’s dad, doesn’t get to MSU football games much any more, but he called the M Club recently to order two tickets to the LSU game and he had a special request:
“Do you think you could make sure they are in the LSU section?”
The M Club folks were surprised at the request, but they came through.