Patrick Kinahan: Decision to leave Utah goes beyond basketball for Burgess

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SALT LAKE CITY — Chris Burgess has heard all the jokes, dating back to the infamous incident during his senior year of high school nearly 30 years ago.

At the time, in choosing his destination to play college basketball, he relayed the conversation with then-BYU coach Roger Reid. In what has become lore, Burgess spoke of the feisty Reid commenting on how the teenager's decision would let down "nine million Mormons."

The quote became front-page news and followed Burgess to Duke, where he played for two seasons before transferring to Utah. BYU later fired Reid the next month in the midst of a 1-25 season. The two have long since patched up any ill feelings the incident caused.

Fast forward to this week, updated versions of the line made the rounds. This time, based on him trading positions as an assistant coach with Utah for BYU, Burgess was letting down thousands of Utes basketball fans.

The joke was twofold based on a takeoff on Reid's outburst and the fact that fans have not exactly been flocking to see the Utes play mediocre basketball at the Huntsman Center. Both are worth a chuckle or two.

But for Burgess, it's his life. To an extent, the noise hits him.

Here's the deal with the soft-spoken big man, at his core, he cares. He cares what people think of him and the career decisions he makes that are played out in a public forum.

He gets that bouncing back and forth between the two heated rivals is not all that common. Yes, it's been done before, most notably in the case of Utes legend Jeff Judkins leaving Rick Majerus' staff to work for Steve Cleveland at BYU, and then eventually to become the longtime head coach of the women's program.

Judkins, who was a star for Utah as a player in the 1970s, had no choice. Essentially, for reasons that neither side ever made public, Majerus forced him out.

To his credit, Judkins kept quiet and went about working for the Cougars. Years later, after BYU framed his departure as the women's coach's decision to retire, he wasn't ready to step aside and later resurfaced as an assistant to Utah women's coach Lynne Roberts.

Burgess has his own reasons for changing jobs and may not go public in explaining them. Everybody has something, and basketball coaches are no exception.

In this case, Burgess deserves widespread plaudits for making the move that is in the best interest of he and those around him. To prove it, money was not even close to the main issue.

Optically, it looks bad that Burgess left Utah only two years removed from resigning as an assistant for Mark Pope at BYU. There's a perception, even if it is false, that he bolted to get away from a proverbial sinking ship.

Obviously, Craig Smith's program is not meeting historically high expectations for a tradition-rich program. During his three years as the head coach, Smith's teams have made incremental progress but has yet to make one NCAA Tournament appearance.

In his three seasons at Utah State, Smith got two teams into the tournament. It would have been three consecutive seasons, but the tournament was canceled in 2020.

Known as an excellent recruiter with relatable communicative skills, Burgess was expected to help bolster Utah's talent. Now he's gone.

Before leaving Utah, where he played for Majerus, Burgess met with Smith to explain his reasons for deciding to work for new BYU coach Kevin Young. It mattered enough to go well beyond the surface.

Still, his departure is a blow to Utah. Smith's next hire is important to the program, ranking next to the available NIL and increased fan support.

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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