EDMOND — When Dennis Millican was a senior quarterback at Putnam City West in 1973, he watched a tall, gawky sophomore learning the steps of the triple-option wishbone offense that coach Mike Little was teaching at the time.
“He was about 6-3 or so, big and muscular. He looked like he ought to be a lineman,” Millican said. “Being the cool stud senior that I was, looking down at an underclassman, I didn't know what to think of him.”
As it turned out, quarterback was exactly what Scott Burger was supposed to be. And 40 years after he was Millican's backup as a high school sophomore, Burger is ready to find out if head coaching holds the same destiny.
Burger, 55, was named the new coach at Edmond North last month, the culmination of a long — really long — journey to the head coaching ranks.
Starting in the fall of 1973, Burger spent three years as a quarterback at PC West, two at Wichita State and two at the Edmond college now known as Central Oklahoma, where he was an All-American for the Bronchos.
He jumped right into coaching, and spent the next 32 seasons as a high school assistant — the last 29 at Putnam City North.
But this past spring, he decided the timing was right to pursue the head coaching vacancy at Edmond North.
“I've put in my time, and this is something I wanted to do,” Burger said. “Things happen for a reason. You're put in places for a reason, and I think I was put at PC North for so long for a reason. And it was time to go.”
The Patriot lineage
Burger was the first Putnam City West quarterback to be named All-State, earning the honor as a senior for the 1975 season. Yet he's one in a long line of successful Patriot QBs to play during the school's heyday under Little in the 1970s.
Jerry Griffin had a long, successful coaching career — also as an assistant at PC North — until he retired a few years ago. Millican followed him as the Patriots quarterback in the early 1970s. He later coached at PC West, among other schools, and is the head man at Grove now.
After Burger, Scott Tinsley took over and guided the Pats to a pair of state title games. He shared The Oklahoman's Back of the Year award with Putnam City QB Kelly Phelps in 1977 before heading out to Southern Cal and eventually to the NFL.
Kyle Duke capped off the decade of Patriot quarterbacks as an All-Stater in 1979, and Jay Lohrey, another All-Stater, quarterbacked the state title team of 1981.
Ben Rutz briefly revived the Patriot QB lineage as an All-State selection in 1991 before playing out his college career at Kansas. But nothing ever matched the early years.
“You don't realize it until you look back later, but it was big,” Burger said. “I remember the first time we beat Putnam City, when they were the best program around. Guys still talk to me about that today, and those kinds of things are just great.”
The Little impact
Burger's days at PC West are more than just fun memories. The teaching he received from Little — as well as the other talented coaches he worked for later — is woven through the embodiment of Scott Burger the coach.
Burger was more of a passing quarterback at PC West, but he can still explain the intricate details of the triple-option the exact way Little taught it in 1973.
“The first step is here, then you go here ...” Burger said, beginning to act out the step-by-step movements of the quarterback in the play. “I can still do that in my sleep, just the way Coach Little taught it.
“He always told us to do the little things right, to take care of the little things, and that's one of the things that still sticks with me today. There's a ton of stuff like that, but that's the biggest one.”
Little, who died in 2011, had immense respect for Burger as well.
“Coach Little loved Scott,” said Rob Green, a former PC West assistant who replaced Little when he left in 1985. “He always said Scott may have been the best athlete to come through Putnam City West back then, with his size and speed and everything. He always said Scott could do just about anything he wanted to do athletically.”
On his own
Burger is in a new world now.
For the first time, he's hiring assistant coaches, organizing practice schedules, and handling all the other administrative and menial tasks that often fall on the head coach.
“It's been kind of hectic,” he said. “A lot of this is very new. I'm wearing a lot of different hats.”
But the bother of those duties goes away when he gets on the field with his players.
“I could practice all day with these guys. They're great kids,” Burger said. “This is what I love to do, to coach, and these kids are having fun. And that's what football's all about — having fun.”
Burger hasn't been a head coach for a single game yet, but after more than three decades as an assistant under legendary coaches such as Little, Ron Taylor and Bob Wilson, among others, Burger is as prepared as any rookie could be.
“He's been a defensive coordinator, my offensive coordinator — the next obvious decision for him was to be a head coach,” said Wilson, PC North's head coach the last 21 years. “He has a really good football mind. He's a great Christian man, a good character guy. He's got all the things you're looking for in a head coach. He'll do a great job for them at Edmond North.”