Former two time Big Sky champion, and team USA Wrestling coach, Bruce Burnett has been elected into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Bruce was voted into the HOF last year, but due to COVID-19 the official induction ceremony will be held June 5 in Stillwater Oklahoma.
Burnett came to Idaho State in the fall of 1970, but before his legendary stint in Pocatello began he was already tearing the mat up in the California Junior College ranks. Burnett was a two time California State Junior College champion for Bakersfield Junior College, ending his two year career with a 55-3 record. This made Burnett one of the highest ranking recruits in the nation going into the 1970 school year.
Head coach of the 1970 ISU wrestling team, Tom Jewell, made recruiting Burnett a top priority.
The bond between a coach and their athletes is something that can never be fully understood by anyone except those two individuals. Burnett says that Jewell was a great recruiter, but more importantly a great man. The final selling point was Jewell’s ability to target Burnett’s love for the outdoors, and connecting that love to Pocatello.
Burnett’s favorite part of Pocatello was the great hunting and fishing opportunities in Southeastern Idaho He reflects back on an old training partner John Caccia spending a lot of time riding horses at his family’s cabin in their off time. While Burnett liked to have his fun outdoors, he also put in a tremendous amount of work on the wrestling mat.
While at Idaho State Burnett was the back to back Big Sky champion in the 142 lbs class in 1971 and 1972. ISU won the Big Sky team titles in both of those years with strong performances across the board. In the 1972 Big Sky finals matches, ISU had a competitor in eight out of the 10 weight classes with five earning the championship for their weight class.
After graduating, Burnett became the head wrestling coach at Meridian High School, where he led his team to a 142-13 overall record. During this time Burnett was named Idaho Coach of the Year seven times. His first state champion at Meridian was Kevin Wood who later went on to wrestle at Boise State. These championship moments across all levels always stood out in his coaching career as special. Later he would coach Brandon Slay to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympic games in the 76kg weight class, and the feeling was always the same. Exhilaration.
Burnett’s last coaching stint in the college ranks came as the head coach of the Naval Academy from 2001 to 2013, where he led Navy to a 113-57 dual meet record over that span. After 2013, Bruce had a brief retirement before being asked to come back onto Team USA in 2014 to coach the Rio Olympic cycle. After which he retired again, this time for good.
Burnett resides in the far north Idaho town of Sandpoint where he is still enjoying the outdoors.
As Burnett reflects back on his time at Idaho State he has nothing but fond memories.
“I’ve been blessed to be around so many great athletes on every level,” Burnett said. “High School, college, and professionals, I loved the close knit community of Pocatello, and the people at Idaho State were a big part of my life.”