Frank Kush, Hall of Fame Coach of Arizona State, Dies at 88

Coaching the Sun Devils until the middle of the 1979 season, Kush had 19 winning teams. He was named national coach of the year in 1975, when Arizona State went 12-0 and gained the No. 2 national ranking. He took the Sun Devils to six bowl victories, sent dozens of players to the pros and won seven Western Athletic Conference championships. He won 176 games, lost 54 and had one tie.

Kush was once a celebrity in Arizona. His face was plastered on billboards around the state, his program was backed by a powerful booster organization, and he was hailed by state legislators and the university administration.

Famously demanding, he was known for putting his Arizona State players through grueling training camps in the August heat and requiring those who committed mental lapses to run up and down a steep, treeless 500-foot slope of loose sand and shale that became known as Mount Kush.

One player who incurred Kush’s wrath fought back. Kevin Rutledge, a former Sun Devil punter, filed a lawsuit in September 1979 seeking damages against Kush and others associated with the football program.

Rutledge said that when he reached the sideline after making a poor kick in a game against Washington in October 1978, Kush shook his helmet from side to side, reached under his face mask and punched him in the mouth.


Kush in April 2015 at the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Scottsdale, Ariz. Credit Michael Chow/Associated Press

He also contended that Kush and an assistant conspired to harass him, physically as well as verbally, in an effort to get him to quit the team and vacate his scholarship. He did quit in 1979, transferring to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Kush denied the player’s allegations, and the university’s Board of Regents found that he had done nothing wrong. But he was fired in October 1979, with his team at 3-2. University officials said he had tried to obstruct their inquiry by encouraging some players and assistants to lie about the incident if necessary.

A Civil Court jury in the Rutledge case found in favor of Kush and the university in 1981, but by then Kush was getting ready to coach the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

“One day I’m a coach of the year, I’m proud, happy, successful,” he told Sports Illustrated in June 1981. “Then, suddenly, I’m an ogre. So the trial ends and I win. But not really. Destroyed are things that took years to build: a winning program, great fans and terrific university-community relations.”

After leaving the college ranks, Kush coached Hamilton to a winning season in 1981, then coached the Colts in the National Football League from 1982 to 1984, all of them losing years, the first two in Baltimore and the last one in Indianapolis. He coached the Arizona Outlaws of the United States Football League in 1985.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

Mike Haynes, who played for Kush in the 1970s and became an All-Pro defensive back in the N.F.L., told The Arizona Republic after Kush’s death that at first he felt that Kush “might have had short-man syndrome.” But he added, “I learned so much from him about setting goals high and overcoming obstacles.”

Frank Joseph Kush was born on Jan. 20, 1929, in Windber, Pa., into a family of Polish extraction.

He played for Michigan State from 1950 to 1952 before going to Arizona State.

Kush was eventually welcomed back to Arizona State. The playing field at Sun Devil Stadium was named Frank Kush Field in 1996, and a bronze statue of him stands outside the stadium. He became a special assistant to the athletic director in 2000.

In addition to his son Danny, Kush’s survivors include two other sons, David and Damian. His wife, Frances, died in 2010.

When Kush took over as coach of the Colts, he held daily scrimmages in training camp, a rarity in the N.F.L. His approach to football had hardly changed from his years at Arizona State.

“I have no compassion for anyone who is out for football who is concerned about being hit or hitting,” he told The New York Times in 1982. “To even be talking about this amazes me.”

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