Burson reaches coaching milestone with 500th career win
NEW CONCORD, Ohio, January 5 - On Saturday, January 5 at 4:37 p.m. after the final seconds ticked off the clock in Muskingum College's 77-76 win over Otterbein College, head coach Dr. Jim Burson became the newest member in the 500 career-win club in collegiate basketball.
Burson's passion for basketball has been burning bright at Muskingum College since 1967 and during that time he has become a permanent part of its basketball history. He currently ranks seventh among active coaches in NCAA Division III with 500 victories.
"Dr. Jim Burson's 500 career wins - all with Muskingum College - show what a great basketball coach he is. His coaching skills are matched by his talents as an educator who changes the lives of young people," said Dr. Anne C. Steele, Muskingum College President.
"Achieving 500 career-wins is a tremendous accomplishment. The scope of Coach Burson's success is an integral part of Muskingum's athletic tradition," she said.
While the majority of Burson's teams have not been the biggest or even the most skilled, Burson has found a way to make them win.
"Let the strong take from the weak, and the smart take from the strong," said Burson. "Reaching 500 wins is a representation of having a lot of good players, special assistant coaches and having tremendous fans who have stuck with me through the years."
After beginning the 1967-68 season 0-6, Burson picked up his first career-win over Mount Union College (73-68) on January 9, 1968. The Muskies would finish the season 3-16. Since then, Burson has had to endure only eight losing seasons, something he attributes to his players. In his tenure at Muskingum, Burson has coached seven All-Americans and 61 All-Ohio Athletic Conference players. In addition, his teams have won six OAC championships and gone to the NCAA tournament five times. Burson points to his players as the best memories of 35 years of coaching.
"The players make coaching enjoyable, winning makes coaching fun," Burson added. "I think about the seasons and the kids who played for me and it always makes me smile."
Some of the players that stick out most in Burson's mind are Ken Gandola, the first 1,000 point scorer Burson coached, and Gene Ford, who at 5-foot-8 showed Burson great players come in all sizes. Burson also remembers Jim Vejsicky, a 1,000 point scorer, and a key player in the Muskies' championship season of 1972-73, who is now an assistant coach under Burson. Pete Liptrap, Larry Hall, and Chris Garber were all selected to All-OAC teams in their time under coach Burson, and Burson points to those players as people who hold very special memories for him.
However, a coach cannot be successful without respect and support, and Burson's family has been his biggest supporter.
"Without the support of my family, I never would have stayed in coaching as long as I have," said Burson. "My whole family was involved in basketball. From my son Jay, who played basketball at The Ohio State University; to my daughter Jamie, who was a cheerleader; to my wife Sonie, who was my biggest supporter over 35 years of coaching; my family has always stood by me."
In addition to leading the Fighting Muskie program to prominence, Burson has been involved in amateur basketball at its highest levels. He was a coach at the Olympic Sports Festival in 1988, and was involved in the selection process for the 1984 Olympic Team that won the gold medal in Los Angeles under then Indiana University coach Bob Knight.
"While his coaching record shows 500 wins -- and still counting, I think that everyone ever associated with Jim and his program are the real winners," said Bob Knight, head men's basketball coach, Texas Tech University. "For anyone to have been associated with any aspect of his program must certainly judge that very special opportunity as a rare privilege from one of the leaders in the coaching profession."
Since 1995, Burson has been a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Burson has served with the likes of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Purdue's Gene Keady and Cincinnati's Bob Huggins.
"Jim is one of the truly outstanding gentlemen in our profession. He is very dedicated to the game," said Huggins, head men's basketball coach, Cincinnati University. "He has a unique ability for finding little things which can give his teams advantages, then building on them. I congratulate him on achieving this coaching milestone."
Burson's success has gained not only the respect of Muskingum College, but also those in the Ohio Athletic Conference.
"He is the most respected coach in the league. His peers have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a person as well as a coach," said Ohio Northern head coach Joe Campoli. "This runs not only in Ohio, but nationally. He has brought a great deal of prominence to this league over the years."
Burson gains as much from seeing a player come to Muskingum, and leave a better person, as he does from seeing players have personal success on the court.
"Jim Burson exemplifies what college athletics are supposed to be. He is so much more than a Hall of Fame Coach. He's a great role model," said Tim Gleason, Commissioner, Ohio Athletic Conference. "The young people he teaches will be better off 20 years from now because Coach Burson is a part of their lives today."