by Siobhan Richards
For New Englanders, the football season was a time to root for the Patriots, especially when the Patriots played one of their AFC rivals, the Miami Dolphins, in Week 17 last year. In that game, however, Hudson football fans had to root for both teams.
Matt Burke, an HHS graduate and football captain from the Class of 1994, has climbed through the ranks of both collegiate and professional football to become the current defensive coordinator for the Dolphins.
Burke played football for most of his high school career as a safety and at quarterback his senior year. Burke also excelled in the classroom. He was the Class of 94’s valedictorian.
“That’s [Hudson] where it really started. I played other sports [basketball, baseball, and track],” Burke said, “but when I went to college, I knew football was the sport I was most passionate about.”
Burke attended Dartmouth, where he played safety, and he was a part of an undefeated Ivy League championship team in 1996. At the time, coaching had not crossed his mind as a possible career.
“I took kind of a convoluted path to coaching,” Burke said. “When I left Hudson, I went to Dartmouth, and I kind of thought I was going to be a doctor or something. When I was in college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved football.”
Burke began his coaching career at Bridgton Academy in North Bridgton, Maine. From there, he worked as a graduate assistant coach at Boston College, where he received his masters degree. There, he also realized his passion for coaching and was determined to make a career out of it.
“Over the course of my time at BC, I was like, ‘All right, this is what I want to do.’ I don’t know if I ever really made a conscious effort to coach, but it just kept happening, and at some point I looked up and said, ‘Man, I want to make a career out of this,’” Burke said.
As he continued to coach, more opportunities opened up. While working as the assistant secondary coach at Harvard, his big break came.
“You never know when your break is going to come or when opportunity is going to rise, so you can’t really plan for it. But I told myself, ‘I’m going to work hard and be a good coach, and whomever I was working with would hopefully recognize that when a break did come,'” Burke said. “I told myself that I was going to coach as hard as I can and be as good as I can and let the breaks happen when they may. I just happened to get very lucky.”
Burke’s hard work paid off when Harvard recommended him for a coaching position at the Tennessee Titans. They hired him as the defense quality control coach, beginning his NFL career.
He moved around to three different teams, slowly moving up in the ranks to linebacker coach. This past January, he was promoted to defensive coordinator of the Dolphins.
As the linebacker coach, he worked closely with parts of the defense and, specifically, with linebacker Mike Hull.
Hull spoke highly of his coach, saying, “He’s a very intelligent coach. He knows everything about the defense, and he’s going to give you straight answers so you know what your job is.”
Burke can find the specific strengths in each player and highlight them on the field. Under Burke, Hull had a breakout season, more than tripling his tackles, with 18 tackles in 16 games.
“[Burke] lets you be a football player and really lets you thrive in whatever your niche is or whatever type of player you are. He doesn’t try to make you too mechanical and really works with you,” Hull said about Burke’s coaching style. “I love working for him. I think I speak for every linebacker in the room. He’s a great coach.”
Some of Burke’s coaching success can be traced back to his time at Hudson under former football coach Victor Rimkus.
“I definitely experienced a lot there [at HHS],” Burke said. “Looking back I ended up experiencing a lot of different things in my early football career, and it was a good foundation of experiences of both highs and lows.”
His relationship with his former coach and teacher has stayed strong throughout the years. The two have met up on occasion when Burke is in town, and Rimkus even went to see some of his games in college. He still recalls much of his time with Burke in high school, even though Rimkus retired after Burke’s junior year.
“I coached him 25 years ago, but he always had a place in my heart. He was such a great student and athlete,” Rimkus said. “Matt was an outstanding student, an outstanding athlete for a tall spindly kid, and boy, he could really run.”
Rimkus has followed Burke’s career wherever he went, and as a former coach, is very impressed by his career path.
“Well I’d like to think I did [inspire him to become a coach],” Rimkus said with a chuckle. “During the years I have always watched for him on the sidelines, until his father told me he’s always up in the press box. He’s so intuitive and really knows the game. I hope they have a great season down in Miami, and he’s got a lot of work to do down there on defense.”
Burke has been working with the team throughout the offseason and addressed some of his ideas for the season at a press conference in May.
“I could see all kinds of success stories from Matt Burke. He’s going up, and I wouldn’t be surprised some day if he becomes a head coach in the NFL,” Rimkus said. “I think someday you might even be reading about him as a head coach tangling with the Patriots.”