Luke DeCock

Some of the secrets of Texas Tech’s success came straight from Durham

Chris Beard on the process that lead Texas Tech to the national championship game

Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard spoke to the media on Sunday, April 7, 2019, about the process that he put in place with the Red Raiders that has led them all the way to the national championship game.
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Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard spoke to the media on Sunday, April 7, 2019, about the process that he put in place with the Red Raiders that has led them all the way to the national championship game.

LeVelle Moton always tried to be the last person to leave the gym at AAU tournaments, but he noticed one guy who was always still hanging around at the end. Brian Burg was going after some of the same players at Campbell that Moton was at N.C. Central, and when Campbell’s staff was let go after the 2012-13 season, Moton reached out to him immediately.

“He turned down a couple of jobs to work with me,” the N.C. Central coach said Sunday. “It was a match made in heaven from there.”

Burg played a critical role in Central’s ascension to the MEAC powerhouse it is now, helping Moton and the Eagles to their first NCAA tournament bid in 2014 and NIT appearance in 2015 before getting a call from a little-known coach named Chris Beard to join him at Arkansas-Little Rock.

At that point, he didn’t have any idea he was only four years away from playing for a national title, the chance he will have with Texas Tech on Monday.

“This is surreal,” Burg said Sunday. “I’m living my dream right now. You always dream of coaching on Monday night. That’s what’s happening tomorrow. For all the coaches driving a 15-passenger van, or eating a sack lunch after a game, postgame meal, keep fighting. Keep believing in that dream to one day coach in a Final Four. It happened to me. I just believe in a solid day’s work and if you treat people with great respects, you’re bound to have success.”

As it turns out, some of the credit for Texas Tech’s sudden rise to this prominent position under Beard goes to persistent raids of N.C. Central’s campus: First Burg, 39, who moved from UALR to Texas Tech with Beard as chief of staff before being promoted to assistant coach; then strength coaches John Reilly two years ago and Brandon Lee last summer.

All three men played critical roles in the rise of Moton’s program and Jerry Mack’s three-time MEAC champions in football. Reilly was the athletic department’s head strength and conditioning coach at Central, and Lee worked primarily with the football team.

“Those guys are great,” Mack said via text message Sunday. “I’m rooting for Texas Tech all the way.”

Mack, who is now the offensive coordinator at Rice, gave Lee’s offseason conditioning program a tremendous amount of the credit for the Eagles’ three straight MEAC titles from 2014-16, and Lee developed a reputation for doing the most with Central’s limited resources compared to the Triangle ACC schools. Without a nutritionist on staff or athletic kitchen pumping out protein shakes, he pushed players to each as much peanut butter as possible, going through 200 five-pound jars of Jif. And it worked.

And Moton said Reilly’s enthusiasm and energy were critical elements to the basketball program, but Burg knew he wanted to poach him at Texas Tech after remembering seeing Reilly collecting scrap metal around campus to raise funds for the weight room at N.C. Central. That, Moton said, is the kind of work ethic Burg would appreciate.

“What he did was create a standard for assistant coaches,” Moton said. “It’s tough for any assistant coach that follows him to live up to. I hold them to that standard now. And it’s tough.”

Burg’s experience at the lower levels of the game, where the fastest route to success is to “stay old,” as he put it, has lent itself well to Beard’s quick turnaround process at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders rely heavily on two graduate transfers this year, having rebuilt the roster essentially on the fly after losing four starters to graduation.

“I feel like we have a lot of success knowing how to coach guys like that,” Burg said.

That’s one reason why Burg who has risen the farthest the fastest, going from three junior colleges to Middle Tennessee State to Campbell to N.C. Central to Little Rock to Lubbock, where Beard said Burg “is a big piece of this story.”

“This guy is going to be a head coach sooner rather than later,” Beard said. “He’s the real deal. He coaches at all different levels. He knows the game. He relates to players. He’s a tireless worker. He’s come up the hard way. And he’s won wherever he’s been. ... Brian Burg is a big piece of this story. He’s special.”

As guard Brandone Francis said, “he means everything to us.”

And this means everything to Burg.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.