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A familiar face, Matt Burns, will lead Newport Harbor football program

Matt Burns has been named the 18th head football coach of Newport Harbor High School.
Matt Burns has been named the 18th head football coach of Newport Harbor High School.
(Courtesy of Newport Harbor High School)
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Matt Burns lives close to Newport Harbor High School. How close? He skateboards to his job as a biology teacher there.

“I’m literally across the street,” he said. “I take a right turn, and Davidson Field is right there. I can hear the noise from my house.”

Burns will be spending much time at the field in the coming months. Last week, he was named the 18th Newport Harbor football head coach in program history.

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Burns takes over for Peter Lofthouse, who resigned after six seasons to coach at his alma mater, El Toro.

The connection to Newport Harbor runs deep for Burns, 48, and his family. He and his wife Erin both graduated in 1994, and Erin’s father (class of ‘63) and grandparents (class of ’42 and ‘43) also attended.

Matt Burns, far right, was a longtime assistant coach for Newport Harbor football under Jeff Brinkley, left.
Matt Burns, far right, was a longtime assistant coach for Newport Harbor football under Jeff Brinkley, left. Also pictured are longtime assistants Bill Brown and Tony Ciarelli.
(File photo)

Burns’ children are the family’s fourth generation at the school. Megan and Molly both played volleyball for the Sailors before graduating in 2022 and 2023, respectively, and his son Wyatt is currently a boys’ volleyball sophomore.

“It’s pretty special knowing we have so much history here, and I get this opportunity now,” Burns said. “I’m pretty excited.”

Burns’ car license plate reads “Tarball,” and he’s been with the program for decades. He was a junior linebacker on the 1992 team, which memorably beat rival Corona del Mar in the Division 4 semifinals and advanced to the CIF championship game for the first time under former longtime coach Jeff Brinkley.

Burns coached with Brinkley at Newport Harbor from 1998 until Brinkley retired in following the 2017 season, including four years as defensive coordinator.

In 2018, Burns was a finalist for the head coaching job that ultimately went to Lofthouse. He ended up taking a few years off from coaching football, becoming the strength and conditioning coach for the boys’ and girls’ volleyball program. Burns still holds that position, and he’s also the Newport Harbor surf coach.

Matt Burns' car license plate.
(Courtesy of Erin Burns)

He came back to coaching football the last two years under Lofthouse. Burns coached the linebackers in 2022 and moved up to defensive coordinator last year. The Sailors went 5-6, beating rival CdM for the first time in 11 years and advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs before losing 24-21 in the first round to Trabuco Hills.

In announcing Burns’ hiring, Newport Harbor Principal Sean Boulton called Burns the heart and soul of the teaching staff, as well as someone who is well-equipped to continue the “Long Gray Line” tradition with the football program.

Burns agrees, knowing that bonds made as teenagers can be long lasting. Over the weekend, he spent time in Catalina with some of his high school friends from three decades ago.

“It kind of comes down creating a good bond with the kids, teaching them to work hard, teaching them to communicate,” he said. “Honestly, playing a game is fun, but we’re really making better humans.”

Matt Burns (No. 56, just left of center) played high school football at Newport Harbor before graduating in 1994.
(Courtesy of Erin Burns)
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