Gary Burnett, a fixture in south Louisiana high school football coaching circles since the late 1970s, died on Saturday after a brief illness. Burnett, 73, spent the 2018 season as the defensive coordinator at East Iberville, helping the Class 1A Tigers advance to the second round of the playoffs.
“Gary was a great guy and the kids just love … loved him,” East Iberville head coach Ron LeJeune said. “This was a guy who has five championship rings, but you would never know it. I don’t think I ever saw him get upset and just scream at a kid.
"Gary is the best defensive coach I've ever been around. He had a way of relating to kids, teaching them and getting them to perform at a high level.”
Burnett is perhaps best known for a four-plus year stint at Glen Oaks from 2001-05 in which he compiled a 28-24. Burnett fought the 2005 termination with a lawsuit against the East Baton Rouge Parish School System that was unsuccessful.
But Burnett career's that span parts of five decades was filled with other notable points and five LHSAA titles. He started his Louisiana career at now defunct Boothville-Venice and Riverside Academy. He also was a Southern University graduate assistant. Short head coaching stints at Bowling Green School (two years), Silliman Institute (one year) and East Ascension Academy (one year) followed.
While at Bowling Green, Burnett met Dennis Lorio. Burnett coached with Lorio at multiple schools, including Thibodaux High, where they teamed up to win the LHSAA’s first Class 5A title in 1991.
“They say you only have maybe two or three people in your life who are truly your best friend and Gary was that for me,” Lorio said. “The first time I met him he was the head coach at Bowling Green and I was head coach at Central Private. Our managers left some footballs on the sideline after the game and when I went back to get them, Gary was standing there with the footballs. He was so gracious. Gary was a great coach, but a better person.”
Burnett then spent six seasons as an assistant at John Curtis in the 1980s, as the Patriots won four LHSAA titles. He served as defensive coordinator for Lorio for three seasons at Thibodaux High, including the Tigers’ Class 5A title season in 1991. Burnett then took over as head coach at Thibodaux from 1992-96. The Tigers were 9-4 in Burnett’s first season as head coach.
From there, Burnett came back to the Baton Rouge area and was an assistant/defensive coordinator at Tara for three seasons. From Tara he moved to Glen Oaks, first as an assistant and then head coach. After that, Burnett had assistant coaching stints at Redemptorist, Woodlawn, Denham Springs, Morgan City, St. Michael and Christian Life.
“Gary was a coach’s coach,” said Dutchtown coach Guy Mistretta, who was head coach at Redemptorist in 2006 when Burnett coached there. “He was only with us a year, but he built relationships with coaches and players that lasted.
"Gary was never a coach who got stagnant. He was a big clinic guy, who loved to learn new things and he incorporated them into what he did.”