Advertisement

Analysis: New BYU assistant Chris Burgess’ journey between red and blue worthy of rivalry documentary

BYU assistant basketball coach Chris Burgess poses for photos while at the Marriott Center Annex in Provo on Friday, May 3, 2019. On Wednesday, BYU announced the popular coach was leaving his job as an assistant at the University of Utah to rejoin the Cougars' staff.
BYU assistant basketball coach Chris Burgess poses for photos while at the Marriott Center Annex in Provo on Friday, May 3, 2019. On Wednesday, BYU announced the popular coach was leaving his job as an assistant at the University of Utah to rejoin the Cougars' staff. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

If anyone ever decides to film a documentary, or write a more current book on the Utah-BYU rivalry, the saga of Chris Burgess might be a good place to start.

In another twist to Burgess’ wild college basketball ride with both programs, the former Duke and University of Utah star on Tuesday was hired to join the basketball coaching staff at BYU — again.

Two years after Utah was able to nearly double Burgess’ salary as an assistant under Mark Pope and lure him back to The Hill, new BYU coach Kevin Young said he is bringing the popular Californian back to BYU. He had been making upward of $265,00 annually the past two seasons at Utah and learning from Craig Smith.

What Burgess is making in his return to Provo may never be known, as BYU is a private institution and not subject to open records requests. Whatever it is, the take here is he will be worth every penny. It also shows once again that when it comes to basketball, BYU isn’t messing around.

Shortly after Burgess’ move was made known and Young said in a school news release that he and Burgess “quickly connected,” longtime college basketball observer Doug Gottlieb insinuated on X that Burgess’ allegiance to his faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — which supports BYU — had something to do with what appears to be a lateral move from one Big 12 program to another.

“Leaving your alma mater for their arch rival in the same league tells you all you need to know about devout LDS men and how they regard BYU,” wrote the basketball analyst and sports radio host, perhaps unwittingly kicking a hornet’s nest in the Beehive State.

Does he know that Utah’s highly successful football coach, Kyle Whittingham, is also a Latter-day Saint?

As someone who wrote extensively two years ago about Burgess’ return to Utah — where he played under legendary coach Rick Majerus, who would be sweating in that cream-colored sweater were he still alive over this latest turn of events in the storied rivalry — I would beg to differ with Gottlieb.

Burgess loves his alma mater. That came across loud and clear every time I spoke to him.

How was the hiring received among BYU’s current players?

Noted Dallin Hall, the point guard who last week withdrew from the transfer portal and returned to BYU: “Thrilled to have @cburgess34 in blue.”

Call it another home run hire for athletic director Tom Holmoe, deputy AD Brian Santiago and, of course, Young. Burgess joins a staff that added Stanford assistant Brandon Dunson last week, another outstanding hire.

I would advocate bringing back Pope assistant Nick Robinson to assure some sort of continuity, but it appears Young’s next hire will come from the NBA.

At any rate, he can’t go wrong with bringing Burgess aboard for the second time, especially because the 11-year professional player is adept at working with bigs, and the Cougars’ roster right now certainly lacks experienced bigs. It is Young’s greatest need from the transfer portal, in my opinion.

Smith, who has lost another assistant, DeMarlo Slocum, to Washington, now faces a tough task in replacing Burgess.

“Chris is not a transactional guy. He is a relationship person, and that matters,” Smith said in 2022 after hiring Burgess. “At the end of the day he is a very good coach, a very good recruiter, and a phenomenal person.”

And now he’s wearing blue again.

Former Utah center Chris Burgess, who now plays basketball for a professional team in Puerto Rico, shows off jerseys from his college and international basketball career.
Trent Toone