For Don Burke, it’s much more than just another coaching gig.

The Los Angeles native graduated from St. Monica Catholic High School in 1979, helping the boys basketball team win a CIF Southern Section title that year.

Decades later he returned to serve as an assistant coach for the Santa Monica private school’s girls basketball team, guiding the Mariners to their first-ever section championship in 2013.

Now, after a much shorter stint away from his alma mater, Burke is back to lead the girls program as its head coach.

“It’s like coming home,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “The school has a special place in my heart.”

Burke returns to St. Monica after a brief tenure at Los Angeles-Bishop Conaty, which last year made the section playoffs after going undefeated in the Horizon League.

He fills the void left by Kelly Evans, whose teams went 36-21 in two years, including 8-8 in conference play during that span. The Mariners reached the Division 4A quarterfinals in 2013-14 and returned to the quarterfinals in Division 4AA last season.

But the players who were freshmen on the title-winning team three season ago are now seniors, and Burke said they’re hungry to bookend their prep careers with another championship.

“I’ve got a great group of kids,” he said. “The last two years wasn’t a very pleasant experience for them. The chemistry didn’t really mesh, and they lost a lot of their passion for the game. I think their passion’s back. They know what I expect out of them, and they know how hard I’ll push them, but there’s that mutual respect. That’s the key to coaching: They play harder for your if they respect you.”

The upcoming 2015-16 season will serve as the latest chapter in Burke’s career in sports.

Burke attended Daniel Murphy High School for two years before transferring to St. Monica, where he was a member of the boys basketball team alongside future NBA player Leon Wood.

Coached by Chris Corliss, the Mariners defeated Santa Maria-St. Joseph 70-65 in the Division 1A finals in 1979 after losing in the title game a year earlier.

Coaching entered the picture for Burke after he became an insurance agent, got married and had two sons. When his son was ready for youth basketball, his wife encouraged him to volunteer as the team’s coach.

“I said, ‘If I’m going to do it, I’m not doing it half-assed,'” he said. “‘I’m going full-bore.'”

Burke ended up becoming the youth sports director for the North Valley Family YMCA, building a program that had 75 kids when he started into one that attracted a couple thousand by the time he left. He also coached AAU basketball in the San Fernando Valley for about 10 years.

Burke was an assistant for the Bishop Alemany boys basketball team in the early 1990s, but he stepped away from coaching when his wife became ill.

Years later, when he got the itch to coach again, he contacted John Skinner at St. Monica and joined the staff of the high school girls program. The Mariners captured a section title in 2013.

“That was nice,” Burke said. “Now it’s time to do it on my own.

“My intent is to bring back the enthusiasm to where it was, to try to get the community involved and engaged. In ’79, we had fire marshals turning people away at the gym. That’s how packed they were. So I’m trying to bring that enthusiasm back. It’s about building something that’s going to last.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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