In mathematics, multiplying two negatives creates a positive. The formula holds true for Chris Burgess and his relationship with BYU. First, as a young player, he said no to the Cougars, and second, as an assistant coach, he left BYU to join the staff at rival Utah.

Both decisions were tough blows for the Cougars, but with time as the transparent revealer, it all adds up. Burgess was on a journey to become a better coach. The fact that the opportunity is again at BYU makes his story even more fascinating.

First negative

At 6-foot-10, Burgess was a California kid dressed up as a McDonald’s All-American. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was earmarked by many to attend BYU, including then-head coach Roger Reid.

With Duke and BYU as the final contenders, Burgess chose the Blue Devils.

“It was the opportunity to play for Coach (Mike) Krzyzewski, to play in the ACC, to play at Duke and wear the Duke jersey,” Burgess told BYUtv in his last official interview as the Cougars’ assistant coach on April 5, 2022. “I honestly felt like I would have the opportunity to go to the Final Four and compete for a national title every year.”

Burgess and the Blue Devils reached the Elite Eight in 1998 and played in the championship game in 1999 — losing to UConn 77-74. During both seasons, Burgess played a supporting role off the bench as the Blue Devils went 69-6. As he was tutored by his legendary coach, Burgess was educated by blue-blood teammates Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon, Corey Maggette and Chris Carrawell.

After two seasons at Duke, Burgess transferred to Utah before playing professionally overseas for 11 years. He returned to the Final Four in 2022 to join his former Duke teammates and watch Coach K’s final game — an 81-77 loss to rival North Carolina.

“I’m glad I was there to witness it,” Burgess said. “But I didn’t take my eyes off him (Krzyzewski) and I could just feel the shock and sadness among his players. It was a good sadness.”

New BYU basketball coach Kevin Young hits the ground running
Chris Burgess returns to BYU as an assistant coach

Second negative

After returning from the Final Four, Burgess joined “BYU Sports Nation” to put a wrap on the Cougars’ 2021-2022 season. He sat proudly in his blue shirt and laid out the program’s plan to prepare for the Big 12 even though BYU still had one more season in the WCC. The night before, Kansas had won the national championship.

“It just confirms what we know as a staff,” he said. “(The Big 12) is the premier basketball conference in the country right now. It’s going to be difficult. It’s scary but super exciting to see what we can do and what noise we can make.”

Through a series of questions that followed that day in 2022, Burgess revealed some insights into how his mind works as a coach and how he can assist new BYU head coach Kevin Young.

Coaching philosophy: “We try to focus on getting better every day. We want to win. We are recruiting people to win. We were hired to do this job to win games. We want to focus on player development and have a great locker room. If we can take care of those things, if we are getting better every day, if we are developing our players on and off the court and we are winning games, we feel we will be able to transition (into the Big 12) smoothly.”

Transfer portal: “We want the best players that can help us win basketball games, but also represent what this university is. Our job is to reach out and figure out what the kid is doing and why he is leaving and learn about him and his family and figure out if he is a fit for our program. If you are a person that we are talking to, we are going to know right away if you want to get better every day. We use the honor code, and we use what this place represents to our advantage, and we find guys who are completely locked in and want to be part of something special.”

Coaching when momentum is on the other side: “You are looking at the five guys and somehow you must get them to slow down their heart rate first. There are a lot of things going on, a lot of distractions, a lot of what-ifs? You try to control what you can control. Try to get them to think about what matters. Whatever the game is telling you at the time — is it offensive rebounds we are giving up, is it turnovers, is it taking bad shots or are we just missing good shots? You get their heart rates to slow down, get them to come back to the moment and get them to focus on what matters during that time.”

Surprisingly, just days after that interview, Burgess accepted a job at Utah as an assistant coach for Craig Smith. There were no more blue shirts to wear, but his salary was doubled and the opportunity to learn from Smith bolstered his preparation to return as a lead assistant with his longtime friend and head coach Kevin Young.

The positive

With Mark Pope’s hasty departure to Kentucky, BYU turned to Young to lead the Cougars into their second season in the Big 12 and beyond — and Young turned to Burgess.

Burgess returns to Provo with playing experience at Duke, professional experience overseas, previous coaching and recruiting experience at BYU and Utah for two different men who do things very differently.

There are those who might still be mad Burgess didn’t come to BYU as a player and some may question why he left Pope’s staff to join the Utes — two glaring negatives in the eyes of Cougar Nation. However, as with mathematics, multiplying two negatives can create a positive.

The equation of his journey and the sum of its results makes Burgess one of the answers for BYU and when offered the chance to return, his answer was yes.

BYU assistant basketball coach Chris Burgess answers a question during an interview while at the Marriott Center Annex in Provo on Friday, May 3, 2019. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at