Gophers men’s gymnastics coach Mike Burns recently completed the MS 150, a 150-mile bike ride raising money and awareness for multiple sclerosis. Burns’ wife, Dr. Stephanie Devaney, was found to have MS in 2013. Burns chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand about the event and about recent changes in the Gophers athletics department:
Q: This was the second time you completed the MS 150. How difficult was the ride itself?
A: The most I had ridden prior to the ride last year was 25 miles. I was really nervous about whether I could do it. But I made it. And it was an amazing experience. There are about 4,000 people who do it. Everybody was connected with the same common goal — riding with a good cause. We raised about $7,500 last year. … On the second day this year, we ran into a lot of headwinds and crosswinds, and it was more challenging. But I made a post on Facebook about that: People with MS are dealing with headwinds every day.
Q: I’m curious, too, about your thoughts on the new U of M athletic director, Mark Coyle — and just the state of the athletic department?
A: I met with him [Wednesday] over at our gym, and it’s a really positive feeling right now throughout the whole department. I think one of the things people need to know is the department is in better shape than some people think it is. I think Mark is going to be able to get that message out there. There have been some tough things to deal with, but I think he’s going to be able to deal with things in a timely, professional way.
Q: Was your program supported under the old administration?
A: Oh, yeah. I didn’t feel like we weren’t supported. That’s been a constant, really. We get great support in terms of our budget, our ability to travel and bring recruits in.
Q: College gymnastics has taken plenty of hits in terms of the perception and even the number of programs in it. Is it a healthy college sport right now, in your mind?
A: I think the numbers definitely have dwindled over the years, and that’s a point of concern for sure. The product we have because there are so few programs — with a lot of talent concentrated in the top 10 programs — is outstanding. I think we’ve been doing a lot more interaction with our national governing board, USA Gymnastics — I’m actually on the board of directors — and they’ve been reaching out and more engaged with the NCAA programs. It’s hard to know what the NCAA is going to look like in five to 10 years. There could be some drastic changes in how sports are administered, but it’s good to get as many areas of support as you can.
Q: How much do coaches across sports at the U interact — whether it’s going to other games, supporting other teams, things like that?
A: I think it’s pretty good. I go to as many things as I can. It’s hard during your own season to carve out that kind of time. But one of the things that was really good for the department is the Gopher Road Trip we just went on. The coaches are stuck in the bus for a couple hours, and it gives us a chance to interact in ways we usually don’t. It’s good to get together and reconnect with people.