“It was a challenge, and I’ve never backed away from a challenge.” –– Wilson’s new head football coach Bob Burt.
By Aram Tolegian
Even at age 70, Bob Burt has no trouble finding the motivation to drive every day from his home in Hemet to his football program in Hacienda Heights. Burt, the new football coach at Wilson High School, has a real simple explanation for why he does it.
“It was a challenge,” he said. “And I’ve never backed away from a challenge.”
Burt has seen and conquered plenty of challenges in a career that’s ranged from being the defensive coordinator at Hawaii to head coach at Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge to head coach of fledgling and established high school programs. And now he’s in for arguably one of the bigger challenges of his career.
Wilson’s football troubles are no secret to area fans. They’re an ongoing drama that’s been played out for all to see on this newspaper’s prep sports blogs. The fiasco has run the gamut from the district hiring private investigators to track coaches, to poor performance on the field.
The past two coaches at Wilson Greg Hoyd and Brian Zavala, have lasted just three seasons combined. Hoyd was gone after one year and a 1-9 record. Zavala left after two seasons and a 4-16 record.
Both coaches endured ridicule and rumors that ranged from allegations of inappropriate conduct, poor sportsmanship to theft of booster club funds to illegal recruiting.
As Wilson enters the Burt era, though, the veteran coach is making no guarantees about anything, not even how long he’ll be at the school. Nor will he venture to guess how many games his team is capable of winning. About the only thing Burt is saying is that his team will be disciplined.
Discipline, however, might just be what Wilson needs in order to turn the corner. The Wildcats have talent. Receiver J.R. Nelson is one of the top targets in the area and has the potential to someday be playing on Saturdays. Running back Keith Hawk has turned heads in practice and quarterback Josh Morales earned plenty of experience last season. The question is whether Burt can turn it all into one cohesive unit.
“It’s easier to take a job where they’ve had a lot of success and somebody stops coaching and you just have to keep it going,” Burt said. “When you take over a program that’s been struggling, there’s the challenge of saying, ‘OK, let’s see what we can do with this.’ “It’s a lot more challenging and rewarding to see young people mature and change and become competitive. These kids are really good, young people and they’re crying out for some success.”
Burt stepped down at Notre Dame in Riverside on Dec. 13, 2010. At the time, he was convinced he’d coached his last game. Upon having his mind changed and taking the Wilson job, he immediately set forth his plan to bring some stability back to Wilson’s program.
The plan? Basically, it’s what Burt says goes. Burt has no offensive or defensive coordinator. He’ll call the shots on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Burt estimated the Wildcats will be 60-40 run on offense and a 4-4 defense that will attack at opportune times.
The Wildcats have only about 55 players between the varsity and junior varsity levels. Burt estimated the varsity number to be just 27 but said several JV players will be suiting up Friday nights.
So far, there’s no way to tell whether the Wildcats will build on last year’s 4-6 record, but Burt said if work ethic and effort are any indicators, his team will be ready to give a much better account of itself in the Valle Vista League.
The Wildcats, however, aren’t thinking that far ahead. Burt has them on the weekly plan, and right now the focus is on Week Zero opponent Bosco Tech.
“Obviously, the goal is we want to be competitive,” Burt said. “We’d like to have a winning season and try to compete for the league championship. Our first goal is to try and win the first game. We worry about what we control right now.”
With just four assistant coaches, only one of them an on-campus teacher, Burt has his work cut out for him. Early success quickly would drive away the dark cloud that’s been hovering over the Wilson program for the past three years.
All of it is a major challenge, but it’s one that Burt welcomes, and so do his players. After that, as Burt would have it, there are no guarantees.
“At 70, you never know how long the long haul is,” Burt said with a laugh.” But I’m going to give it every ounce of energy I have. We’re working hard and we couldn’t be happier with these kids.”