SALT LAKE CITY – After that fateful telephone call ended in November 1996, the two participants were forever joined together even though their distinctly different paths never crossed during the ensuing 23 years.
I was there as a sports reporter that night at Woodbridge High in Irvine, Calif., when 6-foot-10-inch star basketball recruit Chris Burgess announced his decision to play at Duke over BYU. Having established a relationship with Burgess and his father, Ken, over the prior year, I asked the high school senior how the communication went with BYU coach Roger Reid earlier in the day.
The innocent and obvious question turned into a news bombshell after Burgess quoted Reid as saying he would let down 9 million Mormons for not choosing his church-sponsored school to play college basketball. One month later, BYU fired Reid after eight years as the head coach.
Burgess went to Duke, where he stayed two years before transferring to Utah. An anticipated NBA career never materialized, but he did play several years overseas before becoming a coach.
The sharp-minded Reid also stayed in basketball, making coaching stops in the NBA and China before taking over the program at Snow College. He later became the head coach at Southern Utah before retiring in 2012.
The program that divided them brought them together last week. Recently hired as an assistant at BYU to new coach Mark Pope, Burgess met with Reid at the basketball facility on campus last week.
In a strange twist, the 72-year-old Reid and Burgess, who recently turned 40, in a sense are finally Cougars together.
“It was so good to see him,” Burgess said. “I actually felt like a 16-year-old kid talking to him again. I got a picture with him. He got a picture with our whole staff.”
A former professional baseball player who reached the triple-A level, Reid spent 10 years as an assistant basketball coach at BYU before taking over the program in 1989. He enjoyed five consecutive 20-win seasons and coached the Cougars to five appearances in the NCAA tournament.
But in the midst of a season that ended at 1-25, Reid was cut loose. My reported comments capped several issues within the program at the time.
The messy divorce sometimes overshadows the undeniable amount of success Reid had at BYU. In addition to having a 152-77 career record, he was 9-8 against the revered former Utah coach Rick Majerus.
“I’m so excited to embrace him and what he did for this university,” Burgess said during an interview with The Zone Sports Network.
Despite spurning BYU twice, including coming out of high school and then when he transferred from Duke, Burgess actually has deep family ties to the school. In addition to his father having attended there, his brothers, sister and cousin, Sam, also played on the respective men’s and women’s basketball teams.
With a young family settled in Utah County, he jumped at the opportunity join Pope’s staff. Burgess spent the last four years as an assistant to Pope up the street at UVU, where he specialized in coaching big men.
“He’s going to be a great coach,” said former BYU coach Steve Cleveland, who succeeded Reid. “He’s a great guy and his really committed to the craft. He’ll be a great addition to that staff.”
If nothing else, considering his history, Burgess understands the heated rivalry between BYU and Utah. None of the other BYU coaches, including assistants Cody Fueger and Nick Robinson, played college basketball in the state.
“It’s been a part of my life. It was a rival for a big part of my life when I was at the University of Utah. I know how big that rival is,” he said.
“To be a part of this history and to represent this university, I’m telling you I can’t be more excited.”
Not to say the irony of coaching at BYU all these years later is not lost on him. Nor is it for others, too.
“Life comes full circle,” he said.