Kent State hires Minnesota assistant Burns as new coach

Kent State has turned its program over to Minnesota associate head coach Kenni Burns, who will try to build on the success started by Sean Lewis.

“I am excited and humbled to lead the Kent State football program,” Burns said Wednesday. “I am looking forward to getting to know the team and connecting with them on a personal level, and I am also excited to engage our alumni and fans as we begin to move this program forward. We have a lot of work and recruiting to do, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Burns will take over a program revived in five seasons by Lewis, who resigned last week to be Deion Sanders’ offensive coordinator at Colorado. Lewis went 24-31 and led the Golden Flashes to their first bowl win in 2019, when they beat Utah State in the Frisco Bowl.

Of Kent State’s six winning conference records in the last 35 seasons, three came in the last four years under Lewis.

Kent State went 5-7 overall this season but gave No. 1 Georgia a scare before losing 39-22. The Golden Flashes also played at Washington and Oklahoma.

Burns is returning to the Mid-American Conference, where he spent one year at Western Michigan working under P.J. Fleck. The Broncos went 13-1 and won the Cotton Bowl in 2016 to make Fleck one of the nation’s most sought-after coaches.

Burns followed Fleck to the Gophers in 2017 and coached the team’s running backs.

Burns previously was an assistant at Southern Illinois (2008-09), North Dakota State (2010-13) and Wyoming (2014). He coached the running backs for the Gophers and was promoted to assistant head coach in 2019. Under his guidance, Rodney Smith left the program in 2019 as the all-time leader in all-purpose yards and Mohamed Ibrahim set numerous records in 2022.

Ibrahim, who was named a second team AP All-American, is second on Minnesota’s career rushing list with 4,597 yards in 40 games and is the all-time Gophers leader with 52 rushing touchdowns. While he was rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon during the 2021 season, Ibrahim helped Burns advise the running backs and raved often about the support from and connection with the coach.

Burns played three seasons at Indiana before graduating in 2006. Along with playing for the Hoosiers, Burns served as a liaison between the student government and athletic department.

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AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.

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