The Man Beneath the Fedora

An Oregon Fugue captain shares her reflections on a coach and a friend.

Oregon Fugue Lou Burruss. Photo: Kevin Leclaire --
Oregon Fugue Lou Burruss. Photo: Kevin Leclaire —

How do you write about something that is hard to express in just a couple of short paragraphs?

I have had the pleasure of playing for The University of Oregon Fugue for the last five seasons. Before that, I didn’t know this sport existed. So my experience in ultimate has been strictly Fugue.

My one and only Ultimate coach, Lou Burruss, is the single most important member of the Fugue family. He is complex and simple; night and day; peanut butter and jelly. You may recognize Lou as the man who is brave enough to wear tight green pants or his signature fedora to coach the National Championship game. But he is so much more. He is the brain behind the “Fugue Operation.” He is the conductor of this freight train.


I have never seen anyone dissect ultimate footage the way Lou does. Every morning for breakfast, he eats in front of his laptop while watching games from the past and present. The way he looks at these games is how a scientist studies his experiment.

Even though he lives an hour and ten minutes from Eugene, he is still very present for the University of Oregon team. When I was captain for a year, I remember receiving emails that were sent at 3:57 AM. These emails would range anywhere from “read this leadership document” to “we are going to implement our zone at practice this week” to simply “what’s up?” Even at practice, if I would ask him a question, nine times out of ten he would reply with a question. The way he challenges his players is remarkable in the sense that we can grow as not just players on the field but as leaders off the field.

Learning Lou’s Way

As an 18-year-old, I wasn’t just learning the game of Ultimate, I was learning Lou’s version of Ultimate. Now, I don’t actually know how to play the sport, just Lou’s way. I am still trying to figure it all out. Lou understands the game more than anyone I know. But he also understands the people involved. He studies not just how an opposing team operates, but breaks down individual player stats and coaching tendencies.

Jesse Shofner once said, “He leads through respect, not fear.” This is very true. It brings me back to Regionals 2014. At the start of our semifinal game vs. Washington, Lou told the defense to play a four-person zone cup. We had never practiced this defense or even used the term “cup” before. He trusted us to figure out what we needed to do to succeed. And it worked. We went on to defeat UW 15-4 to win the region.

I wouldn’t be the Ultimate player that I am today without his coaching ability. I struggled to find a position on the field when I first started playing. I could run and catch and thought I would be a cutter for the rest of my Ultimate career.

But Lou saw something different. At the beginning of my junior year, I was moved to handler. I thought he, and our assistant coach Katherine “Nij” were insane. But alas, I found a surprising comfort back there. I am positive he saw that in me before I did. The things we are scared of, Lou wants us to hit them head-on to be better players. He leads with respect, not fear.

Clown Tent

Many of you may have heard of the clown tent. This is Lou’s philosophy. I was introduced to the clown tent at a young age, and, finally, after five seasons, I think I get it. While Lou is the ringleader, Fugue is the circus. There has to be both for the show to go on. As new players come into the tent, Lou doesn’t try to morph them into already present acts. He takes the individual strengths each new player brings to the show and uses them in ways no one else can see. The circus changes every year, but the tickets keep selling.

There are certain Lou-isms that I will carry on throughout my life. At the end of the season, it is tradition that we have a team sleepover out at the Burruss residence. He and his wife Mizu love to cook together and make the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted. But after the bread and butter comes the real dessert: story time with Lou. Gathered around the campfire with only the sound of bats overhead and the fire crackling, Lou tells us stories that we actually aren’t sure are true or not. If he’s making them up, then he sounds convincing. That’s just Lou. His confidence is contagious. I mean who else could wear those green pants on game days?

I hope someday you get the chance to simply have coffee with Lou Burruss. You’ll walk away, maybe with a headache from all his insight and knowledge, but it will be a conversation that you will remember forever.

  1. Ashley Young

    Ashley, a native of Seattle, recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Journalism with an emphasis in feature writing and multimedia. She played for Oregon Fugue, winning two National Championships during her career. You can follow her on Twitter @ashleyhopeyoung.

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