There will be a different voice directing the boys basketball team at Robbinsdale Cooper High School next school year.
Activities director John Oelfke announced last week that Hawks assistant coach Steve Burton has been promoted to head coach, filling a void left when David Johnson was relieved of the job in early June.
Burton spent five years working with Johnson at Cooper – four as a site coordinator and then last winter as an assistant – and is an academic liaison for the high school.
“Steve is the right guy for this,” said Oelfke, who said three finalists were interviewed for the position. “He was in our program last year, and he is in our building also. He was Dave’s top assistant, and he knows and cares about the players. As a program, that continuity gives you a little bit of a jump start into next season.”
Cooper is coming off just a 12-16 season in 2011-12, but the Hawks did extend the year into the Class 4A, Section 7 semifinals, where as a No. 7 seed in the eight-team tournament, Cooper eventually fell to second-seeded Champlin Park.
That loss would end up being Johnson’s last with a program he helped stabilize midway through the 2007-08 season. Johnson replaced Kurt Pauly halfway through the season, and ended up coaching Cooper all the way to a third place finish in the Class 4A state tournament.
The Hawks would follow that up with a 27-2 season in 2008-09, and then a 25-4 run through 2009-10. Cooper won a North Suburban Conference championship in each of those two seasons. The Hawks finished fourth in the league after compiling an overall record of 19-10 in 2010-11, and the team was seventh in the conference this past winter.
That decline, however, had little to do with Johnson’s exit, Oelfke said.
“Those kind of decisions are really difficult, especially with Dave because he is such a great person,” Oelfke said. “But we had some differences administratively. We tried hard to iron some things out and change a couple things, but it just wasn’t working out, and that is why the decision was made.”
Burton said once he heard change was coming that his first initiative was to get his name in consideration for the job, helping to fulfill a childhood pact made years ago.
“This has been a dream of mine since age 12,” Burton said. “I wanted to be a teacher and a high school basketball coach. I had this group of friends, and we talked about it in junior high. If we weren’t blessed enough to be professional players, we wanted to coach.”
The job is coming on somewhat of a sliver platter, as Burton – like Johnson did in 2008-09 with Rodney Williams – takes over with an ultra-talented player under his guidance.
Rashad Vaughn is entering his junior season at Cooper, and has already garnered attention from nearly every major college basketball program in the country.
Vaughn has already been named team captain for next year, and one of Burton’s first tasks as head coach was reaching out to Vaughn to make sure the role of captain isn’t something the 6-foot-6 guard takes lightly.
“He should be the hardest working kid in the gym, because the rest of the guys will follow,” Burton said.
As for the rest, Burton said the team will play fast, and aggressive, something that was also a theme under Johnson that past four-plus years.
“The style won’t change a whole lot,” said Burton. “We want to be athletic, and really try and carry on what Dave was doing. He did a heck of a job here, and I’m just hoping to maintain what he’s established as Cooper’s head basketball coach.”