News broke early this morning that former Purdue football head coach Leon Burtnett has passed away. The news was first reported by Randy Myers an Arkansas based radio host and journalist.
BREAKING: Former Arkansas State DC and Purdue head football coach Leon Burtnett passed in his sleep last night @ the age of 78.— Randy Myers (@RM_BlazerVoice) June 1, 2021
Prior to becoming the Purdue head man Burtnett was the defensive coordinator for the Boilermakers from 1977-1981 under then head coach Jim Young. Following Jim Young’s departure Burtnett was given the reins. As the defensive coordinator Burtnett was instrumental in the so-called “Junk defense”. This defense got its name because it more or less couldn’t be pinned down to one type of defense and offered varied looks throughout a game and throughout the season.
Burtnett coached Purdue for five seasons from 1982-1986. His overall head coaching record at Purdue was 21-34-1. He did take Purdue to a bowl game following a 7-4 record in the 1984 season. The team tied for second in the conference that year. The team would ultimately lose in the Peach Bowl. With his 7-4 regular season record, and second place finish, Burtnett earned Big Ten Coach of the Year for the 1984 season.
In his final season with the Boilers in 1986 Burtnett’s squad went just 3-8 and despite having a contract in hand through 1990 he resigned. Fred Akers would be the man to take over for him. After leaving Purdue Burtnett bounced around with stints in both the NFL and college. Notably he was with the Indianapolis Colts as a running backs coach from 1987-1991.
Burtnett does have some notable names on his coaching tree as well. I’m using coaching tree here as folks who coached under him and then eventually got head coaching jobs of their own. Both Tim Brewster and Joe Tiller can be considered branches off of his tree as Brewster was a GA at Purdue in 1986 and Tiller was the assistant head coach, defensive coordinator, and defensive line coach at Purdue from 1983-1986.
Our thoughts are with Burtnett’s family and friends in this difficult time.