‘I LOVE IT MORE TODAY THAN WHEN I GOT HERE’
CHEYENNE -- Tom Burman is entering year 13 as the athletics director at the University of Wyoming.
A lot has been accomplished on his watch, from multi-million dollar facilities, new coaching hires and bringing high-profile teams to War Memorial Stadium. Often, Burman is simply asked about budgets and future goals. We asked him that, too, but we also wanted to know what it is like to be an athletic director at a Division-I school. How does he handle boosters, scheduling and develop relationships with coaches?
There was a report that Burman's contract expires at the end of June. He says that isn't true. He was extended through 2022.
"Let's not start any rumors," he joked.
For more than 25 minutes Wednesday afternoon, Burman talked to me over the phone about a plethora of issues, concerns and memories during his tenure as the head of UW athletics. He was engaging, excited, humorous and honest.
7220sports: You are entering year 13 as the AD at Wyoming? Can you even fathom that?
Tom Burman: If you would’ve asked me back in 2006, I probably would’ve said something politically correct, but I would’ve thought they’d ran me out of here before now. It’s been a great run. I love it. I love the people. It’s been a blast. I still enjoy it as much today as I did in 2007. Probably more, to be honest with you.
7220: What have been some of your favorite, most memorable moments since becoming AD?
TB: I tell people all the time, the primary reason of this job is to watch kids develop, grow up and watch them celebrate success. Obviously, common sense is, beating Boise State on Jonah field, watching Josh (Adams), Larry (Nance) and Riley Grabau beat San Diego State for the Mountain West championship, watching fans rush court, Joe (Legerski) and the Cowgirls winning the NIT. Heck, even last year’s performances and great victories. Yeah, they were unbelievable, and we celebrate them. Anytime we beat CSU, I revel in that. I love that in any sport, any time. It’s great. Those are all great moments. Then there are the ones you have with kids where they are getting done with their career and come by to say goodbye or say thank you. They become fond of being a Wyoming athlete and proud of their degree … those are the best moments. Obviously, the public would say hosting championship, beating Boise State, things like that.
7220: Your tenure, in my opinion, will be remembered a lot because of facilities. What goes through your mind when you walk through the sports complex and see the indoor, the Wildcatter, the AA renovations, indoor tennis, golf practice, High Altitude, etc…?
TB: I’m proud, but it takes a community of people in a state to accomplish those things. I may play a lead role in creating the vision, the plan and fundraising, but if we can’t get the board of trustees and the state legislature on board, it doesn’t matter. It takes a lot of people rowing together. I talk about that a lot, no state in America with this small of a population has a Division-I program. It takes a great effort by a lot of people to make this happen. I’m Honored to play a role in it. It sets us up for success in the near term and long term. In 2007, I looked around and said to myself, from a budget perspective and a facility perspective, we are not a Mountain West school. If we aren’t careful, we won’t be. We’ve done a good job of that.
7220: Let’s get into scheduling. I think most fans, and myself, wonder … how do you go about scheduling for football? Can you take me through from start to finish how a Texas Tech or Clemson comes about? Do you get together with Craig Bohl and say, 'are we recruiting here? Or this is a big money game?' What's the anatomy of scheduling?
TB: We sit down and we talk about what we want in a non-conference schedule. We have to play six home games, no matter what. Two are in non-conference. It would be really nice if you didn’t have to play a “guarantee game.” That would be nice. You’d like a game where you are going to challenge yourself with a school with equal resources like us. You might get an FBS game at home. If we play well, we will be able to play 85 kids. That’s always good for morale and development of players. On the road, recruiting plays a role in it. Do we recruit there? If you can play there, that’s better. I look at it from a donor/alumni base. We have a lot of alums in Texas, working in the oil and gas industry. That doesn’t always work out that way, but you balance all of those pros and cons and make it work. Then once you do that, it’s a lot of phone calls and standing around at meetings asking other AD’s if they have a game open in 2026. Then they say stuff like, ‘I wouldn’t want to come to Laramie first. You’d have to come to us first. And we can’t return it until 2030.’ It’s not as simple as it sounds. The funny part is, there are so many factors even if a school has a day open. They check out things like, do they want to play in Laramie? How many kids will they have returning? Do they have a quarterback that we don’t want to see? We all really look ahead at scheduling. Here, elevation and the ability to fly directly into Laramie makes it better for football than basketball. Hoops is an issue because they don’t typically charter jets. All of it plays into it. If you go back to the exciting games we’ve had here – Nebraska and Texas, for example -- to be honest, I became a pest. Especially with Oregon. I called at least a dozen times with Oregon. They finally said, ‘OK, just stop calling me.’ There are certain games that we have to make it happen. It’s getting harder. We have home-and-homes coming up with Utah and Texas Tech, and I’m always working on them. With Bohl, and the team starting to get better, I believe this with all my heart, one of these days we are going to win one of these games in Laramie. Then no one will ever come here to play us again.
7220: Speaking of scheduling, why did you decided to go ahead with a home-and-home with BYU? Doesn’t it feel like you are helping them schedule more than you are helping UW? Have fans been OK with it?
TB: For years, only a couple of Mountain West schools wouldn’t play them. We were one of them. You have to be thoughtful about it. What’s in the best interest of our university? Most of the league ended up playing them. Our fans, especially on the western side of the state, they would love to see us play BYU. You could see how excited our fans were at the bowl game against them. Comparing that to Central Michigan, our fans have a thirst for playing BYU. Boise State is talking about a 10-year deal with them. We wouldn’t do that. But, playing them occasionally can be beneficial. I want to beat them. We haven’t had much success against them. Josh (Allen) almost pulled it off. I’d love to get that done. I might just quit after that.
7220: What if BYU wanted to come back to the MWC? What is your stance on that?
TB: If they came in with same deal as everybody else -- excluding Boise’s piece -- I’d support it. I don’t think they’re in a position for special treatment. Based on that, I don’t think it will happen.
7220: What are your thoughts on conference expansion?
TB: My overarching policy is, there’s no value in expanding unless it adds to the pie. We already split the pie 11 ways. I would not want to split it 12 ways and take less money. It would have to be someone to drive media value. Other than Gonzaga and BYU, no one else can do that.
7220: There are plenty of things to worry about in your position – tv deals, securing state funds for the west side of the WAR and a swimming pool – but how concerned are you about bowl affiliations in the MWC with the Las Vegas Bowl moving on and no MWC teams in the Potato Bowl last year? Do you feel like the MWC is getting squeezed out?
TB: Yeah, last year we definitely got squeezed out. The Wyoming Cowboys got squeezed out. We are working with ESPN to broaden our partnership with them. I’m confident the Las Vegas bowl will be replaced by a new bowl game in Los Angeles and at a new venue. It will be a bowl with the Pac 12, which will be great. We have to add another bowl game and the LA game. We haven’t gotten that deal done yet, but there’s a lot of pressure to get that done and come up with some solutions so it’s not like last year.
7220: How hands on are you when it comes to being an AD? For example: Wyoming’s offense is sputtering. It’s been going on for a month. Do you go into Bohl’s office and say “What’s going on?” Or is that an end-of-the-year meeting type of thing?
TB: It would be during the season. I wouldn’t demand changes to coaches or play calling. With coach Bohl, he comes to see me and says, 'here’s what I’m thinking. Here’s the problem.’ Challenges the public doesn’t see. Him and I talk frequently during season. I’m more of a sounding board for him. One of my strengths is to see how people operate and see what their strengths and weaknesses are. But, specificity, I don’t get involved in that. An AD with coaching background may, but those AD’s generally have terrible relationships with coaches.
7220: Is being an AD like you see in the movies? Like a big booster will come up to you and say, "if you don’t fire this guy, I’m pulling my funds."
TB: Some of that, yeah. At Wyoming, usually those people run companies and they know ups and downs, and strengths and weaknesses. It tends to calm them down. We have less of that here at UW than you do at some places. We don’t have a bunch of high-profile donors who liked to be known as the general manager.
7220: What was your reaction to the Joe Legerski retirement? Did you know way ahead of time?
TB: I was surprised. We talked last year, and he thought about (retiring) the year before. But the way this season went and the bond he had with his team I was confident he’d keep going. When he told me, I said, ‘wait a minute, take some time off.’ He said, ‘no, I’m gone. I’m gone on this day. I love you and Wyoming, but it’s time to move on.’ It was a surprise to me like everyone else.
7220: On the men’s side, you decided to stand by Allen Edwards after an eight-win season. Why?
TB: I look at whole body of work, not just one season. It was abysmal and unacceptable. I’m not naive enough to think that if we stayed healthy, we’d have 20 wins, but we had awfully bad luck. We could barely practice at points in the season. We had to bring a football player over and a bring a manager into a game. It was not something that we take lightly. We were disappointed and so was he. We need to turn it around quick. Its not all about wins and losses at a place like Wyoming. His kids are doing great in the classroom, he’s a good mentor and people love him. That’s not always the case. He’s a good man who deserves the opportunity to fix this.
7220: Granted, there were a ton of injuries last season – Jordan Naughton, Hunter Maldonado and Austin Mueller, among others – but there have also been a ton of defections over the past two years. Do you feel like there’s a culture problem on the basketball team?
TB: No, because in most situations, I know the real story. It’s like football. You look a lot of defections lately, but there are a lot of behind the scenes things. An eight-win season creates a culture problem. If you ask me that question in February of next year, I might have a different answer.
7220: When you were hired back in 2006, you said this was your “dream job.” How much longer do you want to do this?
TB: I love it more today than when I got here. I’m only 53, and I have a lot of energy and passion. I won’t do it until I’m 65, that’s for sure.