Remembering The Work Of A Legendary Coach

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It would be a shame for Payson High School football players to have the opportunity to personally meet one of the greatest football coaches of all time and not know more about him.

But, that could happen when Hall of Fame coach Frank Kush makes a guest appearance Nov. 29 at the Payson High School football awards ceremony.

Decades ago, the legendary coach was making headlines by leading his Sun Devil football teams to Top 10 poll rankings and sending All-Americans like Danny White, John Jefferson, Mike Haynes and Woody Green to the pro ranks.

But today, Kush seems more satisfied serving as chairman of the Frank Kush Youth Foundation and working as a Special Assistant to ASU Athletic Director Lisa Love.

For those of us who attended ASU in the mid-1960s -- just when coach Kush was turning what was a small-college program into one of the elite programs in the country -- our memories of him are vivid.

I recall the most impressive thing about Coach Kush was he practiced what he preached.

He was hard-nosed, but we all knew that the fire burning inside helped him become an All-American guard at Michigan State, despite weighing only 175 pounds.

ASU students in the '60s also knew Coach Kush had risen from an improvised Pennsylvania family. His father died when he was 15 and he was the oldest of 10 children.

Kush once told a reporter writing a Tempe history project, "We had no electricity, we had no hot water and we were lucky to eat three meals as we known 'em today."

In the same interview, Kush also praised his father saying, "My dad was quite a disciplinarian and he required all of us to go to school."

Knowing his father's insistence on an education, Kush accepted a football scholarship in 1948 to Washington and Lee but transferred a semester later to Michigan State.

There, coaches Biggie Munn and Duffy Dougherty helped mold his life and coaching philosophy.

It was an "old school" philosophy that included a strong work ethic, trustworthiness and responsibility.

Looking back, I now know Coach Kush and others like Bill Kajikawa, Ned Wulk, Bobby Winkles and Baldy Castillo were teaching Character Counts long before the six-pillar program became a part of public education.

Uncle Sam wants you

In the 1940s and on into the 1960s when I was in college, every male student was required to take a minimum of two years of Reserved Officers Training Corp (ROTC).

As a junior at MSU, Kush decided to enroll for the full four years of training.

He said, he decided to take the final two years because advanced cadets were paid $27.50 a month and that was money he needed.

After graduation from Michigan State and wrapping up an illustrious football career that included playing on a national championship team and being named All-American, Kush went into the Army as an infantry officer.

While stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., he was appointed coach of the base football team.

That was to be his introduction to coaching.

After being discharged from the Army in 1955, Kush's aspirations were to become a high school biology and PE teacher. But later, he accepted an offer to be an assistant coach to Dan Devine who had just taken over at Arizona State.

After Devine departed four years later to become coach at the University of Missouri, Kush, then just 29, was named the head coach of the Sun Devils.

During his 22 seasons at ASU, Kush posted a 176-54-1 record to become the 19th most winning Division I coach. He ranks seventh in the nation in most victories at one school.

During his tenure at ASU, there were also those who took potshots at Kush -- just as unknowing fans have hurled since Nov. 6, 1869 when Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4. Believe it or not, even Payson High School coaches have been targets of misdirected barbs.

On the ASU campus in the 1960s and '70s, coach Kush was known simply as "The Man" and there were plenty of talented football players who said they chose ASU because of Kush's reputation as a disciplinarian.

Kush has said, "I felt that I was the extension of their parents when we recruited these kids. I'm talking about social responsibilities. We didn't put up with any nonsense.

"For example, drugs. We had very little of it. We had six (players with) drug problems -- marijuana. I gave them an opportunity to resolve their problems, and I got them medical advice and everything else. And I told ‘em, ‘If you don't do it, if you don't straighten up your act, you're gonna lose your scholarship.'

"Bing. Five of 'em lost their scholarships, because they did not change their habits."

Kush's demanding ways paid huge dividends. The Sun Devils strung together 21 consecutive wins from 1969 to 1971 and had other winning streaks of 13 and 12 games (twice).

In 1975, the Devils finished 12-0, beat Nebraska in the Fiesta bowl and wrapped up the season ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Most impressive about Kush's teams is that they were almost always smaller, but faster than their opponents. They were also better conditioned than their foes, seldom squandered early leads and were at their best in big games and clutch moments.

After leaving ASU, Kush coached professionally in Canada, with the Indianapolis Colts and the Arizona Outlaws. He also served a stint as the Executive Administrator at Arizona Boys Ranch.

In 1995, Kush was elected into the college Hall of Fame and in 2000 to the Michigan State University Hall of Fame.

Although Kush hasn't been the ASU coach for more than two decades, there are students on campus who continue to recognize his accomplishments.

During the current football team's spiraling downfall, many students have donned T-shirts that read, "WWKD: What Would Kush Do?"

On the Rim

Since arriving in Arizona in the 1950s, Kush has held a special fondness for the Rim Country making numerous appearances at football banquets, weight lifting competitions, 10K runs and for youth groups.

It's not unusual to see him at a PHS football practice or have him show up on the banks of a high mountain stream for a bit of trout fishing.

He's also the man who spearheaded the building of Camp Tontozona, which is now considered one of the premier university training camps in the country.

Many of the football players under Kush attributed their mental toughness to the rugged training sessions they had undergone at the scenic mountain retreat.

In the mid-1950s when then Arizona State College asked voters to approve a referendum to make it a university, Kush traveled the state in support of the name change.

To honor Kush and his contributions to the state and university, the playing field in Sun Devil Stadium has been named Frank Kush Field and a statue of him graces the south entrance.

When Coach Kush rises from his chair tomorrow evening to address the audience, the players need to realize they are listening to a man who deserves the respect and admiration of all who play, or have played, the great game of football.

Start time for the awards ceremony is 6 p.m.

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