New head coaches are often paraded in front of fans and media in a celebratory introductory press conference to put their best foot forward.
Due to the unique circumstances of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, things had to go a bit differently for Georgia Southern.
With a skeleton crew speaking and filming while observing safe distancing practices, just a handful of people were in the room — with many more observing and listening via teleconference and live streaming — as Brian Burg was officially introduced on Friday as the new head coach for Georgia Southern men’s basketball.
Just days after the NCAA canceled all remaining championships - followed by the Sun Belt Conference ending all sports activities for member schools — former men’s coach Mark Byington announced that he was leaving town after seven seasons at the helm.
As is the usual case, the university immediately announced a national search for a new coach, but escalating restrictions on travel and personal contact threw plenty of unusual hurdles into the hiring process. Undeterred, new athletic director Jared Benko was able to land his prime target and bring Burg to the ‘Boro.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be the next head coach at Georgia Southern,” Burg said. “We’re going to have fun. We’re going to win. And we’re going to do it the right way.”
Burg comes to Statesboro following three seasons as an assistant coach at Texas Tech. Just one year ago, Burg and the Red Raiders played for the NCAA championship. A success even in the major conference level, Burg also has experience with the Sun Belt and Georgia Southern as he was on the coaching staff of the Little Rock team that rolled to a 30-5 record and an upset win in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2015.
Despite the bigger stages and brighter lights of recent seasons, Burg knows exactly what he’ll be dealing with as he takes over for the Eagles.
“I remember stepping on the court at Hanner (Fieldhouse),” Burg said. “I remember how it felt to be a visitor there. It was easily the toughest place to play in the Sun Belt.”
It was just three weeks ago that Benko was delivering his own introductory speech as the newly-named athletic director. He used his time to rattle off a pinpoint and succinct blueprint for how he intended to run the ship in Statesboro.
On Friday, Benko’s first major hire offered similar thoughts on the future of Eagle Basketball.
Burg spoke about thankfulness, a blue-collar work ethic and about a vision for the future of his new team. Before he made those remarks, Benko commented on advice he received from those who had previously worked with Burg. From praise on integrity, to acknowledgement that he’s been a winner everywhere he’s been, to a flat-out assertion that he was the best assistant coach in the country, anything Burg put on his resume or said in an interview may have undersold his value compared to his references.
That unassuming - but overachieving - persona came through again as Burg described his coaching career and how it has led him to Georgia Southern.
“I’m a grinder,” Burg said. “I’ve driven 15-person vans and eaten sack lunches while coaching. I’ve traveled the country with no money in my pocket to get experience and beg for a chance. I’ve been doubted and then proven people wrong.
“This is an opportunity I’ve waited my whole life for. And for all the work I’ve done before, I’m still just getting started.”
One of the main attributes attached to Burg and his potential as a head coach was his reputation as an elite recruiter. As good as some of his players have been, Burg was also a prime influence in bringing them to his teams in the first place.
Burg will definitely have his work cut out in terms of building up his first Georgia Southern squad. Not only are six seniors leaving from the 2019-20 team, but projected returning starters Calvin Wishart and Quan Jackson have also entered the NCAA transfer pool, not guaranteeing their departure from the team, but also opening the door for other schools to lure them away.
If both were to leave, rising junior Elijah McCadden would be the only returner with any sort of previous consistent playing time heading into the fall.
For Burg, the first recruiting challenge might come in the form of convincing two players to stay while also building for the future — and all of it will have to be done in the current uncertain times where workouts, in-person evaluations and at-home visits aren't an option.
"I'm a relationship guy," Burg said. "Maybe I can't do that in person right now, but we're going to improvise."
Burg ended by reiterating his self-assurance.
"I like to win, and I've won wherever I've been. People laughed at our plans to win at Texas Tech, and we got to a championship game. And I'm confident that we can plan and execute and win here."