Who says you can’t go home again?
That’s exactly what happened yesterday as the George Wythe Maroons named their new basketball coach. It’s a person and coach very familiar with not only George Wythe, but also with the Pulaski County Cougars.
He coached eleven years at George Wythe and 11 years at Pulaski County, and now Coach Pat Burns is back to lead the Maroons again.
When asked about coming out of retirement and back to the hardwood, Coach Burns says that the communities involved helped him made the decision.
“I had no intentions of coaching again, but a lot of former players and parents ask me if I would think about applying for the job. My years at George Wythe and Pulaski gave me enough good memories to last me a lifetime.”
Pat Burns won championships in district play and regional contests. He played at old Dublin High School under then head coach Sonny Smith, who went on to be a college head man for Auburn, among others.
“Coach Smith taught me 48 years ago the “shoot of the wrong foot” layup and jump shot. It’s the same way todays San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker does it. That’s how innovative Coach Smith was back in 1964.
Coach Burns then went on to star for Emory and has 30 years of camp experience at the University of North Carolina, under then head coach Dean Smith. He has 14 years of prep stars camps. He helped in summer camps at Auburn University, Louisville, Virginia Tech, and Radford University. He also ran team camps for Reebok and Converse. He was head coach for two years at New River Community College.
There’s no question Coach Burns will bring lots of experience to the Maroons sideline. He won some 120 or more games at Pulaski County. While at the Cougar Den his teams won two co-championships with William Fleming in the old Roanoke Valley District. This was back when the Cougars were Group AAA. He won three straight regional championships at George Wythe in 1984, 1985 and 1986.
There are a number of coaches today that have ties with Coach Burns. Rick Cormany of Radford, who has won three state titles, played for him at George Wythe.
“I’m so glad that Pat is back in the game that so many of us love,” said Cormany. “He’s good people and he has great passion for the game. He puts the kids first, and if you do that you will come out on top. I’m so glad to see him back.”
Pulaski County head coach Mark Hanks was an assistant for three years under Burns.
“The big thing about Pat was the way he ran a program,” said Hanks. “It was organized from varsity to junior varsity, and then ninth and eight grade teams. He had a way of doing things that were very successful. He had a numbering system that I still use some of today.”
Other coaches include Greg Ervin, who has also won district and regional championships at Gate City. Trevor Coleman won district and regional championships at Honaker. Warnie Dyke won championships coaching the Brookville Bees girls.
One other coach with ties to Burns is now an assistant at Roanoke College, Tony Dunford.
“Coach is a diamond,” said Dunford. “He expects a lot of a player. He expects a lot of himself. He teaches the game and about life. He’s been a mentor for me. I am so excited for him. He has a great passion for the game.”
Coach Burns also had some fond memories of some of his former players.
“I loved the players I had at Pulaski County and George Wythe. Two of those, “Junebug” Penn and Chris Dalton, have passed away,” said Burns.
He then brought up other former players such as former Radford University player Ron Shelburne. He mentioned Anthony Akers, Mark Mills, Jonathan Penn, and Maurice Johnson among many more.
Coach then spoke about Chris Crockett, who played for him at GeorgeWythe.
“Chris is in the Hall of Fame. Chris spoke two or three years ago at the Hall of Fame, and I was able to attend. He said I changed his life. Chris said I changed how he thought about life. He talked about how I used to tell him to use the basketball, and that the sky is the limit.”
Chris Crockett would go on to play his freshmen year at Ferrum. Then his sophomore season he called Coach Burns and told him he had to come back home, because his grant that paid for his schooling wasn’t there anymore. Coach Burns then went to Dr. Brock Hughes and told him about Chris’ situation. Dr. Hughes would pay the way for Chris.
Chris went on to star at Iona College on a full ride. He went on to do very well in life, and is a personal friend of President Barack Obama.
Chris called Coach Burns and asked if he would take the program over.
“Chris ask me if I would apply for the job,” said Burns. “Chris told me there may be another Chris Crockett out there, and I could help him. That’s one of the reasons I applied and why I’m excited to be the head coach of George Wythe again.”
George Wythe has hired an experienced man to be their head coach. He will bring organization and a system to the Maroons. The gym at George Wythe used to be called “The Dungeon”, and the “Running ‘Roons” also began when Coach Burns was the head coach. He’s back, and the “Running Roons” more than likely will be as well.
Always on the job, Coach Burns has already started assessing his coming team.
“We lost five seniors. We will be young. We have a bunch of juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. We may take our licks, but I’ve taken those before. I’d rather take them than let someone else take them.”
On a personal note, this sports writer used to take Coach Pat Burns to all his games. I was his personal bus driver and scorekeeper for ten years, and it was one heck of a ride. There were ups and downs, exciting victories, and heartbreaking defeats.
I have taken him to Albemarle, Charlottesville, Chapel Hill, and Gate City. I’ve driven with him to Huntington,WV, South Boston, and Woodbridge. I still recall when he told me he no longer was the coach, I cried. He knows the game as much as anyone.
Pat, I’m rooting for you, except for those two games versus the Cougars. So happy and glad you’re back.