Roger Buhrley must be crazy. Here he is coaching a juggernaut at Davis High School, and he's throwing it all away and starting over. Go figure.
Would Bill Belichick give up the Patriots to take over the Texans?
For those who don't know him — and that's most of you — Buhrley has been the head cross country and track coach at Davis High for more than 15 years. In the process, he has built a powerhouse. Since 2000, he and his right-hand man, Corbin Talley, have won nine state girls and boys team championships, including the past three girls track titles. His teams have finished second nearly a dozen times (don't remind him).
This year's team, built around underclassmen, looks like a good bet to win state titles for the next few years. All Buhrley has to do is keep it on autopilot.
So you know what he's going to do? He's quitting to take a job at brand new Syracuse High School next fall. Yeah, the guy is nuts. He's trading a championship team for an expansion team.
"There was something about the challenge of getting out of my comfort zone," says Buhrley, who's 59.
Buhrley broke the news to his team by saying this: "Let me tell you in terms you can understand: I've been called on a mission. I'm going to convert Syracuse to track and cross country."
He's already done that at Davis, where track and cross country are big-deal sports, not an afterthought as they are at most schools. About 200 kids join the track team each spring.
"I love the sport," says Buhrley. "I've seen what it's done for so many kids. I know I'm leaving two or three state championship teams, but that hasn't been important to me."
OK, your cynicism alarm just went off, right? Buhrley says he doesn't even know how many state championships he's won. Let's face it, if championships meant much to him, he wouldn't be leaving Davis.
There is one championship he remembers: The first one. His team scored five points in his rookie season as head coach. Two years later they won the state title.
"I got a lot of satisfaction out of that," he says. "I thought, maybe I'm not as big a loser coach as I thought."
Buhrley likes winning championships for his seniors, not his resume, and beyond that he draws satisfaction from seeing kids succeed at various levels. Like the boy who finally broke six minutes in the mile. It was a modest goal — one that would leave him more than a lap behind the top runners — but achievement is relative for Buhrley. The kid broke six minutes in the last race of his senior year and Buhrley celebrated it like a state title. Then there was the pole vaulter who was so bad that Buhrley tried to get him to quit.
"The only reason you haven't killed yourself is because you can't get high enough to do it," he told the kid. The boy persisted and cleared 12 feet. Buhrley loved it.
"Everyone can have his own personal triumphs in this sport," says the coach, who receives letters from former athletes thanking him for his dedication and words of advice. "I don't recall getting a letter from anyone about my lecture on the Industrial Revolution," says Buhrley, a world civ teacher, "and I thought it was a helluva lecture."
During Buhrley's free time at the school you won't find him in the faculty room; he's usually hanging out with the kids in the weight room or his home room. Kids tend to stop by at lunch to visit. He stays late on the track, working with hurdlers, vaulters, sprinters.
"I've never met anyone who is so concerned about kids," says Talley. "And he has no ego. He hasn't been in it for himself."
All this notwithstanding, let's face it: Buhrley is a world-class track geek. After long hours at the track, he gets on the computer until 10 or 11 p.m., typing up weekly newsletters for 300 parents and alum; assembling best-marks lists not only for his team but for the entire state; producing programs for the two major invitational meets he hosts. One summer, he camped out in the library and the high school activities office researching old track results to compile a state all-time performer list in each event, girls and boys.
"And I wonder why I have no life other than track," he says.
Buhrley isn't just the Davis track coach. He is track in Utah. All things track — schedules, coaches' e-mails, rule questions — seem to go through Buhrley by default.
Now he's abdicating his throne at Davis to start anew. Rival coaches are scratching their heads trying to understand this strange move.
"It's probably a questionable thing to do," says Buhrley. "With hard work, maybe I can do the same thing at Syracuse."
Deseret Morning News columnist is also a part-time high school track coach and assistant football coach in the Jordan School District.