The Augusta Lynx coaching search is over.
Lynx general manager Paul Gamsby named Jim Burton the team's new head coach Saturday, six days after Scott MacPherson was fired just 33 games into his first season.
The 39-year-old Burton coached three seasons in the Western Professional Hockey League, including the past two with the now-defunct Arkansas GlacierCats. This season was to be Burton's first with the expansion Tucson Scorch of the WPHL, but the team folded during training camp in October before ever playing a game.
Burton is expected to arrive in Augusta today and will run his first practice Monday. His contract runs through the end of the 2000-01 season. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"I was anxious to get a job in the East Coast league, and I'm really excited about getting started," Burton said by phone from his home in Fort Wayne, Ind. "I'm not sure what to expect yet because I need to really look at the team and see how we stack up against some of the better teams, and I don't really know what happened before, over the last couple of months. I just can't wait to get down there."
In three seasons as a head coach, Burton's record is 104-79-25, with all three of his teams making the WPHL playoffs.
The native of Brantford, Ontario - where he grew up playing minor hockey with the most famous Brantford native of all, Wayne Gretzky - coached the Austin Ice Bats to a 35-23-11 mark in 1997-98.
The following season, Burton built the expansion GlacierCats into instant contenders, leading them to a 37-27-5 in the team's inaugural season. The GlacierCats then went 32-29-9 in 1998-99 under Burton before suspending operations. The team, based in Little Rock, Ark., no longer was able to compete with the Arkansas RiverBlades, which joined the ECHL last season.
Lynx assistant captain Dean Tiltgen, who played for Burton in Arkansas in 1997-98, said he was thrilled by the hiring.
"He's one of the best coaches I've ever had," Tiltgen said. "We were an expansion team that year, and we had a great year. He's put together three or four good teams now, so I think it's great. I'd say it's a significant improvement."
Gamsby certainly hopes so. The Lynx GM admits to feeling the heat of having to headhunt for a new coach at midseason.
While he essentially said the same thing in June after hand-picking MacPherson as the successor to Dan Wiebe, Gamsby thinks he's found a keeper in Burton, even if he has yet to meet him face to face.
Gamsby said he had about 20 to 25 bona fide candidates, including former Lynx assistant coach Ron Filion.
It was a recommendation from ECHL commissioner emeritus Pat Kelly - one of the league's founding fathers - that led Gamsby to hiring Burton.
"(Kelly) called me one afternoon and said I should look into this guy," Gamsby said. "I've had lot of people calling me, from GMs with NHL teams, to colleges to people in junior hockey, everyone putting their two cents in, trying to push for their guys.
"I have a lot of respect for Pat Kelly's judgment," Gamsby added. "And the more I delved into it and checked into Jim's background, it started sounding better and better and better."
Burton was a finalist for the head coaching job with the expansion Columbia Inferno, which begins play next season.
Kelly, who is serving as the Inferno's director of hockey operations, chose Greensboro Generals assistant coach Scott White over Burton, but told Gamsby that Burton would make an excellent coach in the ECHL.
"I met with Mr. Kelly about the Columbia job, so when I heard about the change in Augusta, I called Mr. Kelly again, and he ended up taking to Paul," said Burton of the man for whom the ECHL's championship trophy is named.
Gamsby says he was not at all gun-shy about hiring Burton in the wake of MacPherson's brief tenure.
"Every decision I've made has not been correct," Gamsby said. "I think I've made a lot of good decisions, and I've made a lot of bad ones. This is another decision, and you try to do the best you can with every decision. That's all you can do."
In considering Burton, Gamsby said he didn't look closely into his playing career, but certainly took into consideration the fact that he was a three-time winner of the International Hockey League's Governors Trophy, which is awarded to the league's top defenseman.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder played eight seasons with the IHL's Fort Wayne Komets from 1981-89. His best season was in 1985-86, when he tallied 30 goals and 64 assists for 94 points.
Burton also had stints in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears and Rochester Americans, and served as a player/assistant coach with the IHL's Phoenix Roadrunners in 1995-96.
He also spent seven seasons in the Austrian Elite League, which led to a spot on the Austrian National Team, with whom he played in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
Tiltgen hails Burton as a strong tactician, as well as a coach who commands respect and knows how to get the most out of his players.
"He's laid-back, and he deals with everyone with respect," Tiltgen said. "You come to work every day, and if you do what you're supposed to do, he's a great guy. If you don't, he does what he has to do. Bottom line is, he's a great coach and a great guy. I think everyone in the city and organization is going to love him."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.