Whether he knew it at the time or not, Jeff Burich was born to be a coach.
The man at the helm of the Bishop Diego girls basketball program has been in love with the sport ever since he was a kid.
In fact, he even played his high school basketball at Bishop Diego, graduating in 1989. Just two years later, Burich took up his first coaching task: getting his younger brother ready to don a Cardinals uniform.
“He was in fifth grade at the time and I just wanted to get my brother prepared for high school. That was the only reason I was doing it,” Burich said with a laugh.
“I just thought he wasn’t going to be ready so I wanted to help him and then once I got into high school I loved it.
“I love the competition, I love just the strategy of everything, the chess match that goes on. Now, I can’t imagine life without it.”
Coaching his brother through middle school, Bishop Diego’s coach at the time, John Ward, a legendary coach on the South Coast who passed away in 2010, brought him on.
All of a sudden, at 23 years old, Burich had his first job and loved every second of it. He started coaching on the JV staff, then bounced around the frosh/soph team for a while.
He coached at his alma mater for six years before leaving to find some success coaching a Page Youth Center team to a championship.
Just like coaching his brother opened a door for him, so too did coaching at Page Center.
“I had a bunch of Santa Barbara junior high kids and so when we won the championship, which had Dave Pintard’s son, a bunch of parents went to the Santa Barbara coach and said ‘hey, we just won a championship, you need to bring this guy here,’” Burich recalled.
Burich went on to coach at Santa Barbara for about three years before returning to his alma mater and remaining a lower-level coach.
After two more years, a head coaching position finally opened up at Bishop — for the girls team. At the time, Burich admitted he had never seen the girls practice let alone play a game. Still, Burich knew he wanted to run a program.
“I knew I wanted to do more and honestly, I was tired of coaching JV and having my best players taken in the middle of the season,” the 48-year old coach said.
It took just one practice for Burich to know he was going to take the job.
“I watched some of the girls and just the speed that they played with, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we can run the same plays the boys can.’ The only thing we didn’t have was the ally-oop play, but I knew right at that first practice that I wanted to do it,” Burich said.
And, just like that, Burich became the man in charge of the girls team in 2006 and has taken the program to some great heights in the past 14 seasons.
He has coached some great players in his time, and in 2015, he accomplished his ultimate goal of winning a CIF title, as the Cardinals defeated Bloomington Christian, 46-31.
“It takes a bit of luck,” Burich admitted.
“I knew that 2015 season we had a chance and we were able to step up and get it done. But, the fact that I could come into this gym and see my name up there and know it’s not going anywhere, it’s pretty great, I am not going to lie,” Burich said.
One of his fondest memories is coaching in Bishop’s State playoff game in 2015 after winning CIF. The Cardinals won that game as well.
“It was amazing. I remember walking out 30 minutes before the game starts and there was still a line of people out the door trying to get in. And then, I remember getting the video sent to me I from here on the sideline as the horn goes off and everyone storming the court and just hearing the emotion and the excitement,” Burich said.
“That State playoff game is probably something I’ll never forget.”
Burich said after that 2015 win, he felt accomplished in his goals as a coach. He said he would have been okay never winning another championship.
That is, until this season.
“You know I was pretty satisfied but then I looked at our division this year and I told the girls we have an opportunity and I saw that little fire in them,” Burich said.
“I remember a coach who is in the same division as us ask ‘Who’s the team to beat,’ and I said ‘We are.’ I was half-joking but I was also half-serious.”
This year, the Cardinals have been anything but a joke, collecting an overall record of 23-8 en route to a CIF appearance today against Ganesha at 2 p.m. in the CIF-SS Div. 5A title game.
In a season where Burich enjoyed getting his 200th career win, saw a group of girls develop into a team and witnessed his team overcome some tough obstacles, a CIF title would just about make it all right.
However, even if for some reason the Cardinals didn’t get it done his second time around, he would be just as thankful for the opportunity.
“It would be amazing, especially for these girls here. It’s such a different team from 2015. This group did it by just playing like a team and just to see these girls develop has meant the world to me,” Burich said.
“That’s all we want as coaches. To see the kids get better and come back next year.”