COLUMBIA — The basketball coaching career of Bob Burchard began nearly three decades ago in the little town of Jameson, which sits along crumbling old Highway 13 in quiet northwest Missouri. Up there a person can see the stars and have room to breathe and dream.
Jameson High School, since consolidated with Coffey and renamed North Daviess High School, was the smallest school in the state when Burchard coached there during the 1980-81 school year.
Harrison Daviess Caldwell Conference opponents have long joked and complained about the tiny gym at Jameson. The court is shorter and narrower than regulation size. There are only six inches between the out-of-bounds lines and the walls. The fans sit in bleachers jammed on the stage, peering down at the players competing in the crowded arena below.
“I coached in that little gym,” Burchard said. “Ten second lines (on either side of half court), restraining lines, tile floor. That’s an amazing place.”
Burchard’s coaching career was born in this setting. It led him to Missouri Western State College as an assistant coach and then to Columbia College, where in 20 years as men’s basketball coach he has led a remarkable turnaround. Before hiring Burchard in 1988, Columbia College went 98-224 in 14 years, an average of seven wins a year and a win percentage of .304. In Burchard’s first 19 seasons, Columbia College went 476-176. This year, his 20th at Columbia College, the Cougars are 8-1.
At Columbia College, Burchard’s teams have had 17 winning seasons, 12 appearances in the NAIA National Tournament, nine 27-win seasons, and three Sweet Sixteen appearances. He has also been named conference coach of the year six times.
A native of McLean, Va., Burchard met his future wife, Faye Cromwell, at graduate school at East Carolina University. After graduation, she got a job at Missouri Western State College, so Burchard looked for coaching jobs in the area through the Missouri Western career center. He found the Jameson job.
“At that time they offered me $8,000, I think,” he said. “I had my master’s degree. I held out for 10.”
Burchard’s boys basketball team went 19-8 that year.
“It was one of the more fun years of coaching,” Burchard said. “It was my first coaching job. I coached every sport, taught seven hours of physical education. Did it all. When you wore the polo that said coach on it, that was it. That was what you were.”
He was not yet married to Cromwell, but they drove back and forth to see each other.
“We had a path wore out between St. Joe and Jameson,” said Faye Burchard on Wednesday. The couple has been married for 26 years.
As an unmarried young man living in Jameson, Bob Burchard was grateful for the school’s nice cafeteria. He joked that he gained 30 pounds that year.
“The best thing about Jameson was the cafeteria was a true cafeteria,” Bob Burchard said. “It wasn’t institutionalized. It was a group of ladies that came in and cooked every day. They made sure that the old single coach had food. I cooked very few meals that year.”
During some of Burchard’s visits to St. Joseph, the couple watched Missouri Western basketball games. He built a friendship with the Griffons’ coach, Gary Filbert. Next year, Filbert had an opening on his coaching staff, so he hired Burchard as a part-time assistant coach. Bob Burchard also got to be in charge of one of the residence halls, another way to interact with the college students.
“He’s very interested in people,” Faye Burchard said.
After a year, Filbert went to MU to be an assistant coach for Norm Stewart. One of Filbert’s assistants, Skip Shear, took the head coach job at Missouri Western and Bob Burchard took Shear’s spot as a full-time assistant. After a total of seven years as an assistant at Missouri Western, Bob Burchard got the coaching job at Columbia College with the help of Filbert.
This began a deep commitment to Columbia College by the Burchards. In addition to being the coach there, Bob Burchard is also the Cougars’s Athletic Director. Faye Burchard is the Dean of Campus Life.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Faye Burchard said. “Virtually all of our married life we’ve been able to work at the same institution... We’ve had a great time at Columbia College. We’ve raised our kids on this campus.”
The Burchards have two children, Jennifer, 23, and Bret, 21.
Bob Burchard credits his success at Columbia College to the ease of recruiting student-athletes to a major college town, the college’s commitment to success in athletics, and bringing in the type of kids he likes to coach.
“I want to recruit kids who know why they’re in school, who are interested in being highly successful,” he said. “...They truly want what Columbia College and our basketball program have to offer. It’s nice being around kids like that. Typically you can coach them.”
Bob Burchard’s players admire his knowledge of basketball.
“He really is a teacher of the game,” senior Mikel Fields said. “He knows a lot about the game of basketball. He expects you to give 100 percent and work hard.”
Burchard said past players stay in touch with the program, coming back for alumni games and e-mailing him about this year’s team.
“They’re still concerned,” Bob Burchard said. “They want the Cougars to do well all the time.”
So far, this year’s Cougars team is doing well, though Bob Burchard said the next five games include some very challenging competition.
“You can compare where we are right now to a lottery scratch off ticket,” he said. “All we’ve done is start on the corner. When you start scratching, you don’t know what the whole picture’s going to be... We’re kind of excited because we like what we see. Only time will tell what the whole picture is going to be.”