In a way, the retired coach always planned on returning.

"My thinking had been that I would've been happy to coach at ninth grade or even middle-school level," said Bob Schnure, Downingtown East's legendary girls' basketball coach who retired in February after 35 seasons.

He just didn't see himself returning to the same team.

In a twist to an illustrious career, Schnure, 67, will coach Downingtown East after retiring 10 months ago. He will lead a Cougars team with four returning starters coming off a 19-win season and a Ches-Mont League National Division title. He's two wins from recording his 300th Ches-Mont victory. Downingtown East will begin its season Friday at the Harriton Tip-Off Tournament.

"My retirement has been greeted with a lot of different comments," Schnure said. "Am I Brett Favre here? How many times am I going to be coming back? Was that my first annual retirement party?"

In all seriousness, though, Schnure really did plan on retiring. Jim Schmidt, Schnure's assistant for 10 years, was also ready to retire, and Schnure had wrestled with the idea of hanging it up for some time.

Schnure hoped for a quick transition after he left to give a new coach plenty of time to get things in place.

That didn't happen.

Earl Burnham, Downingtown East's first-year athletic director, got that job in May but didn't start until July. He assumed the daunting task of replacing Schnure, along with his 769 career wins and five PIAA state championships, would fall to someone else.

"My first thought was, 'Phew. I'm glad I'm not there now,' " Burnham said. " 'They're going to handle that. We'll be good to go. I won't have to deal with that when I get in.' "

Or so he thought.

The girls' team still didn't have a coach when Burnham arrived. Burnham interviewed candidates, but as the calendar turned to August and the position still wasn't filled, he realized the team already had missed out on summer workouts.

"I said to myself, 'This is supposed to be a good team coming in. I want to make sure they hit the ground running,' " Burnham said.

Burnham reached out to Schnure. Schnure agreed to meet with Burnham, and the two talked about the program and the players, three of whom are three-year starters.

"I thought any new coach is going to be behind the eight ball and the kids are going to suffer for that," Schnure said.

So Schnure decided to come back.

"I thought, 'If I am going to be in a gym, I might as well be in a gym with a team that I know pretty well," Schnure said.

The team is glad to have him back.

"He was my coach for my first three years of high school, and I was worried about my senior year and having to come in and learn all new plays," said Kaelyn Johns, a senior guard.

"It was definitely a big relief to hear that he was coming back."

Burnham watched a Downingtown East girls' basketball practice recently. The athletic director liked what he saw: The team was in sync, the players knew the drills, and the Cougars, despite an uncertain offseason, didn't seem to be missing a step.

"That was real exciting to see," Burnham said. "It was great to see them as a team."

Not bad for a first hire.

"Yeah," Burnham said. "I'll take it."