Welsch column: Burr aims to bring Code of the West to Wolves

2014-08-02T20:21:00Z 2014-08-06T06:12:04Z Welsch column: Burr aims to bring Code of the West to Wolves The Billings Gazette

Every other Sunday morning, like clockwork, the Google calendar alarm on Marc Burr’s smartphone sounds.

Burr taps the screen.

“Haircut,” it says, a reminder for the Billings Wolves general manager to stop at Best Barbers the following Tuesday for a trim of his already neat coif.

Neat. Efficient. Regimented.

Would the son of a Marine have it any other way?

“That’s my father in me,” Burr, 31, says with a laugh. “He always used to tell me, ‘Don’t look at the forest – just chop down the tree in front of you’. It sounds simple, but it isn’t.”

Such a philosophy is nevertheless essential these days.

While continuing supervisory social work with Human Resources Development Council, Burr has restored the Indoor Football League to Billings. His dedication to making the Wolves as much a part of Billings’ fabric as ocher rimrock, the Alberta Bair Theater and First Interstate Bank tower means he must recruit more than good football players.

He must recruit a culture.

On Tuesday, Burr will take a whack at that next big tree with a press conference introducing favorite son Chris Dixon as Wolves coach. It's a fortuitous hire that should instantly jump-start a dedicated fan base reeling from the Father’s Day 2010 tornado that tore the roof from Rimrock Auto Arena and doomed the Billings Outlaws franchise.

Dixon was the most accomplished and popular player in IFL history in leading the Billings Mavericks and Outlaws to three league titles. He’s also the mirror image of Burr’s values and vision.

“We’ve got a coach in place who understands this place, what Montana is all about,” Burr said. “We want guys in town who want to be part of the community. This cannot be just a stop. And even if it is, it can’t have that feel. Billings isn’t just a place to play football.”

When Burr spares a moment to contemplate such sentiments, even he sometimes shakes his head with incredulity.

Here are two city products, Burr from Cincinnati, Ohio, and Dixon from Oakland, Calif., who initially viewed Billings as an obligatory whistle stop en route to greater glory between hash marks.

Look at them now.

Burr has been here five years. He married a farm girl from Hardin. He hikes in the Beartooth foothills. One day he suspects he’ll even routinely return the ubiquitous two-finger "howdy" from ranchers driving pickups along dusty country roads, though he concedes the neighborly rite always surprises him yet.

Dixon retired from the IFL to return to Billings and raise his family here.

“Somewhere along the path,” Burr says, “you switch over from ‘I’ to ‘we’.”

The discipline that enabled him to earn a three-day mini-camp tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals is still evident. Burr is as physically sculpted as the day he caught four touchdown passes for Urbana (Ohio) University, earning national Player of the Week honors because, he notes with a laugh, it was one of perhaps three NAIA games nationally.

He has never experimented with narcotics and swears he took his first sip of alcohol at age 25. Lifetime beer intake? Zero. When he does unwind with wife Jamie in front of Netflix’s “Orange Is The New Black”, it’s usually with a manly man nip of Moscato.

“Does it taste sweet?” he asks. “I’ll take it.”

In short, he's walking the talk, modeling for players soon to arrive in Billings. He says he is serious about how they are perceived by a populace with Code of the West values.

To provide a pre-emptive visual, Burr sends prospective athletes brochures from Visit Billings.

“I want these guys to know what we have,” he said. “It’s not just room, practice, game. It’s not just guys on loan for six months. They’re part of Montana.”

With such demands, it'd be easy to forget mundane tasks like haircuts.

Forget his family, though? Never. That said, he's the son of a Marine, always focused on the next tree in the forest that is his Google calendar.

So, those nightly wrestling matches with his four kids? Just to be sure, he has appointments for those, too.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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