BY DENNIS SILVA II | firstname.lastname@example.org
After wrapping up a brief stint as a graduate assistant coach at NCAA Division III Lake Erie College in 2005, Brian Burg did not know where the next chapter of his career would be written.
All he knew was he wanted to be a college basketball coach.
So for 29 straight days, the Katy native wrote letters to then-Texas Tech head coach Bob Knight and then-assistant Chris Beard. Burg met Beard as a 13-year-old when Beard coached summer camps at the University of Texas in Austin. Burg had since followed Beard’s career because of his “obvious passion and ability to communicate with young people.”
“Every single possession, in a summer camp, you could see his drive and passion,” Burg said.
On the 29th day, Burg finally received a call from Beard.
“Hey, is this Brian Burg?”
“Yes sir, it is.”
“OK, two things. One, it’s evident you want to become a college basketball coach. Two, stop writing letters to Bob Knight. He’s all over my (butt).”
“I said, ‘yes sir, no problem,’” Burg recalled with a laugh.
“You played low-level basketball, no one really knows who you are, but I’m going to try and help you out,” Beard told Burg. “I’ll get you set up with a junior college. You’re going to need to borrow money from mom and dad. You’re going to fly across the country from Ohio to Kansas. You’re going to get a rental car and a hotel. Once you do, I want you to find a guy by the name of Brian Marso, who’s the head coach of Garden City Community College.”
That was the first true step of many up the coaching ladder for Burg.
Burg is now an assistant coach under Beard at Texas Tech, and together they have helped the Red Raiders to the first Final Four appearance in program history this weekend. It has been a rollercoaster ride for Burg, who was born and raised in Katy and played his first three years of high school basketball at Katy High before graduating in 1998 from Cypress Falls High.
“When I have the chance, I take a deep breath and look back. I embrace it,” Burg said. “I can relate to the coaches who drive 15-passenger vans after games and eat sack lunches. This has been a great run for me. If I could ever give a message to a coach grinding to reach his goals, I’d say stick with it. I’ve been there. It’s been an unbelievable journey, and I try to enjoy the process and the journey while I’m at it.”
The journey has been something.
- Out of high school, Burg received an athletic scholarship to Cisco College, a community college near Abilene. He played basketball there for two years.
- Burg next went out of state to Iowa, where he spent three years at Mount Mercy University in Iowa, finishing his playing career and spending the last year as a student assistant coach.
- After writing letters to college coaches all over the country, Burg landed a graduate assistant job at Lake Erie College in Ohio, where he was the only fulltime coach on staff.
The next stop was Garden City Community College in Kansas, where Burg is forever grateful to Marso for taking a shot on a young, unknown coach who flew across the country to ask for a job, sight unseen.
“It was obvious to me he was a young kid with a bright future,” Marso said of their initial three-hour meeting at an Applebee’s restaurant. “It wasn’t just what he was saying, it was how he was saying it. He was hungry and eager, and at that level you do stuff no one else wants to do. At junior college, you try and make the best decisions in the shortest amount of time possible. I wanted him right away to be a part of my program.”
That first year under Marso, Burg worked for a salary of $7,500, lived in a dorm room and had five different jobs: concession stand worker, library tutor, dorm director, sports information director and volunteer assistant basketball coach.
“I’ve been involved with 25-30 coaches of Division I and junior college, and he’s the best coach I’ve been around, in terms of being a hard worker, being loyal, doing things no one else wants to or is willing to do, and making the right decisions that will enable a program to be successful,” Marso said.
Burg’s next stop was Western Texas College, where he worked for $22,000 as the men’s and women’s golf coach and assistant basketball coach.
“I called home and asked if I could join the country club,” Burg said, laughing. “That was big-time money to me.”
Off referrals from his time at Garden City, Burg landed his first NCAA Division I job as director of operations under Kermit Davis at Middle Tennessee State for two years, followed by an assistant coaching gig at Campbell University for four years.
After two years at North Carolina Central, where Burg helped lead the program to a combined 31-1 record in league play, Beard came calling once again, wanting to know if Burg would join him at Arkansas Little Rock.
Together, Beard and Burg turned around the program, highlighted by a memorable upset of Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, and that eventually landed them at Texas Tech three years ago when the Red Raiders recruited Beard.
After an Elite 8 run last season, Texas Tech has captivated March Madness this year as a No. 3 seed, posting a 30-6 overall record and overcoming No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Michigan to book a semifinal against Michigan State on Saturday.
“It’s the leadership of our seniors,” said Burg, who was promoted to assistant coach at Texas Tech last spring after two years as the program’s chief of staff. “Anytime you have great experience and guys that buy into a culture, you’re starting off on the right foot. This is Year 3 and our culture is extremely intact. We believe in a process of daily work, about 7-8 different things we do every single day, from shooting 300 shots per day to weight-room work to training room time to nutrition and sleep. Film study, embracing team practice. All these aspects go hand in hand. We have an unselfish, truth-telling culture. We believe in, ‘what have you done for a teammate lately?’ Those are what we believe in on a day-to-day basis.
“If you have the culture intact, similar to what Katy High School has done over the years, you have a great foundation.”
The coaching influence from childhood years in Katy is prominent for Burg.
It started with George Crockett, who was “the first competitiveness I saw at Katy Elementary,” to Billy Fowler and Dean Darrow at Katy Junior High, and then to Jody Sory and Brooks Boynton at Katy High.
“It was the overall culture of winning,” said Burg, whose parents James and Kathy still live in old town Katy. “It wasn’t just football, it was all sports. Just the way coaches carried themselves with the culture and offseason programs. You’re going to work. There’s no entitlement at Katy High. It’s a blue-collar mentality, and it’s something that’s really stuck with me in my coaching career. If you work, success will follow.”
It’s a similar recipe the Red Raiders have enjoyed, which seemingly makes Burg an ideal component for building a program.
“I follow Brian still and I’ve been friends with Chris Beard since he was at junior college, so it’s a great match,” Marso said. “You have two of the hardest working and under heralded, blue-collar coaches in the country. They’re reaping that.”
The result has been the finest season of Burg’s gritty coaching career so far.
“The Final Four, to me, is very surreal,” Burg said. “I don’t think it’ll actually hit me until I get to Minneapolis. We kind of have our blinders on and are looking straight forward. We’re excited about this opportunity to play Michigan State.”