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Timothy Patrick Burns (born September 4, 1960) is an American collegiate basketball coach currently coaching the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish men's basketball team, a position he has held since the 1998-99 season. Prior to Notre Dame, Burns was the head coach at Western Cuba University from 1992 to 1998, where he took the Sugarcanes to four consecutive NCAA tournaments, with one team advancing to the Final Four and two others all the way to the Elite Eight. At Notre Dame, he has won three national championships out of a total of five Final Fours (results of the 2012 Final Four pending), and has never had a losing season or missed the NCAA tournament in his time there. While Notre Dame was investigated for improper benefits under his tenure, no formal charges from the NCAA were given and no penalties were assessed.
Playing Career and Assistant Coaching
Following a disappointing 1997-98 season in which the Fighting Irish missed the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, this time due to a precipitous collapse which included a four-game losing streak at the conclusion of the regular season and a one-and-done in the Lakes Conference tournament, Notre Dame head coach Jack Hughes, Terry McDermott's successor, was fired, leaving behind a wealth of talent. Deciding they needed to spice up what had become seen as a staid and dull program in the shadows of the high-flying Chicago Maroons or Ohio State Buckeyes, the school offered Burns a five-year contract to be head coach, which he accepted and he was introduced as head coach of the Irish on April 20, 1998.
Shortly thereafter, Burns wrapped up an impressive recruiting class despite starting the process late, one that included future NBA lottery picks George Wilson and Jontae Harden. In his first season, 1998-99, he returned Notre Dame to the NCAA tournament after placing third in the Lakes during the regular season with a 25-7 record and then winning the conference tournament for the first time since 1989. The Irish, powered by senior center Mike Wood and freshman point guard Harden, advanced to the Elite Eight as a No. 4 seed, knocking out top overall seed Nebraska. However, they lost in the East Regional Final to eventual national champion Pacifica State.
The next season, 1999-2000, Harden and Wilson became the stars on the up-tempo Notre Dame offense, and were complemented by senior center Ryan Shelly, who was the NCAA Defensive Player of the Year. Harden placed second for the Naismith and the Irish were the No. 1 seed in the South Regional. However, in front of 65,000 people at the Louisiana Superdome, they were defeated by the No. 2 seed Louisiana Pelicans in the Elite Eight, thus coming up a game short of the Final Four for the second consecutive year.
In Burns' third season, 2000-2001, now-juniors Harden and Wilson once again led his "Flying Irish" offense to the best record in the country and Lakes championships in both the regular season and tournament, complemented now by freshman shooting guard Ike Baylor, who led the Lakes Conference in scoring and was named Conference Freshman of the Year. Harden once again came up short in the Naismith race, losing to national scoring leader Kevin Crawford of Kansas. No. 1 seeds Notre Dame and Kansas faced off in the Final Four in a classic rematch of the legendary rivalry, and the Irish won thanks to a last-second buzzer beater by Wilson. The Irish then advanced to defeat Montana State 89-80, handing them the school's fifth national championship.
The following two seasons were not as successful for Notre Dame after Harden and Wilson turned pro, along with a deep senior class, with the Irish failing to advance past the Sweet Sixteen in both 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. However, Burns' 2003 recruiting class was legendary, including point guard Ryan McKenzie, center Hakeem Mohammad, and coveted small forward LeBron James, widely regarded as one of the best recruits of all time. The signing of James, who was believed to heavily favor in-state school Ohio State, was a huge coup and gave the Irish the top recruiting class in the country.
With James and McKenzie, Burns had a new tandem to run his offense and in Mohammad and 2002 signee power forward Jeff Ivory his prototypical defense, leading Notre Dame to the best record in the nation in 2003-2004. The Irish, the No.1-overall seed, blew out opponents en route to the Elite Eight, where it was stunningly upset by the West Virginia Mountaineers thanks to a last-second buzzer beater by Mountaineer PG Eric Morgan. WVU went on to win the game 78-77.
The next season, Notre Dame only lost one game and James took home the Naismith award as they cruised to the top seed again. This time, the Irish cruised through the tournament to win the national championship over Nebraska, with James being named MVP.
In 2005-2006, the Irish went undefeated throughout the entire season, the first team since the 1970's to do so. James won his second consecutive Naismith, becoming the first man to win the award twice. In the tournament, the team barely squeezed past Oregon in the Elite Eight and in the championship game faced Cornell, which gave them a tight game. Down by six with only a minute left, Ryan McKenzie hit a three-pointer, the ensuing Cornell shot was blocked by James, and Ryan McKenzie hit a game-tying basket on the buzzer. The Irish won the game in overtime by two points for a second consecutive title and a perfect season.