Michael Burnett, who coaches football at Tuscarora High School in Loudoun County, Va., won this year's Don Shula Award and flew out to San Francisco for Super Bowl week.
For most people, the recent blizzard that hit the Washington, D.C. metro area was something to forget, a nightmare that lasted days, which included shoveling and spinning tires and cabin fever. For Michael Burnett, it helped put things in perspective.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “We went from sitting under 34 inches of snow to getting a phone call from the NFL, to being on stage with Roger Goodell, so it’s really been unbelievable.”
It was announced almost two weeks ago that Burnett, of Tuscarora High School in Loudoun County, Va., was named the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year. The award was created to honor exemplary high school football coaches who demonstrate a commitment to player health and safety, and the integrity, achievement and leadership exemplified by the winningest coach in NFL history, Don Shula.
Burnett, a 13-year coaching veteran, was nominated by the Redskins and the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, and was eventually one of three finalists chosen by the NFL to receive the honor. By winning, he earned $25,000 from the NFL Foundation, $15,000 of which will go to his high school’s football program.
“Just overwhelming, it really was,” he said of winning. “I don’t look at it like I’m better than anybody else. I just love the recognition for high school coaches. I think there’s such great coaches going on that are really changing lives and I’m just honored to represent them.”
Though, he certainly took advantage of the perks of winning, which meant a whirlwind week in San Francisco leading up to the Super Bowl. Everything was scheduled – trips, parties and red carpets – but it was the detour, well, actually just getting lost, that provided Burnett the most satisfaction.
On the way to his award’s press conference on Friday, Burnett traveled with Shula. However, their driver messed up his GPS, allowing some extra time in the car for the both of them to chat and talk football.
“It was great,” Burnett said. “We all got lost, so for 30 minutes we were trying to navigate our way through to get here and I can’t believe that…”
After making a brief speech in front of a huge room of press, and posing for photos with Redskins President Bruce Allen, Burnett stayed for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s news conference. Among the many issues Goodell touched upon, the discussion raised about football’s values, and the importance in young people learning them, struck a chord with Burnett.
“That’s the first thing I said to him, you know, I said thank you for saying that about football because that’s what we do,” Burnett said after meeting Goodell later. “You know, so much of what happens in the NFL is about winning, and championships and Super Bowls, and that’s exciting, and I love winning as a coach, and we win our share of games. But I think most of the people who get into coaching football get into it for the values that it brings and the selflessness and the sacrifice and really the values that you’ve learned that help you be a productive husband and father and worker.”
Burnett is in his sixth year with Tuscarora and has amassed a 60-15 record as head coach. Prior to coaching there, Burnett spent four years at Broad Run High School in Ashburn, Va., winning consecutive state championships after leading Santa Monica High School (Calif.) in his first three years as a head coach.
Before he discovered coaching, Burnett was a litigation attorney. He currently teaches AP economics and serves as the Department Chair of Social Sciences at Tuscarora.
With the Redskins facility right down the road from his high school, and several Redskins employees on hand Friday to watch him accept his award, Burnett has felt supported in many ways.
“It’s great” he said. “Right before the state-semifinals this year, we got to use their indoor facility because our weather was so bad, and so we’ve been really blessed to have the Redskins in our backyard. And they’ve always been very supportive, I think, of high school football and they do a great job.”