“Frank Kush is Sun Devil football.”
That comment from Arizona State VP for University Athletics Ray Anderson was part of a series of accolades coming from ASU coaches and administrators following the announcement of the former head coach’s death earlier today at age 88.
But that sentiment goes right to the heart of why there will be a huge outpouring of sympathy from ASU fans all over the country. For the past half century, Kush has been the yardstick by which all head football coaches after him have been measured.
During his 22 years running the Sun Devil football program his teams won 176 games, the most in school history; collected seven Western Athletic Conference championships and six bowl wins in seven appearances; and posted two perfect records. During those two decades, he had just three losing seasons.
His 1970 and 1975 teams went undefeated and the ’75 squad finished that season ranked No. 2 in the nation, the highest in program history. That was also the season that earned Kush National Coach of the Year honors.
Kush sent 128 players on to the NFL, including 10 first-round draft picks and 17 pro bowlers.
His legend today is still larger than life. Players that weren’t born until decades after his reign as Sun Devil head coach ended in 1979 know his name and what he accomplished for their school. Stories of his disciplinary style and demanding methods of molding championship teams are passed along from generation to generation – sometimes from the fathers that once played for the coaching legend. Every one of them has a story or fond memory they are glad to share from those glory days in the ’60s and ’70s.
Inevitably, there will be stories about Camp Tontozona. Kush opened the 30-acre camp site in the pine-covered country just outside of Payson in 1960 and used it as a retreat from the summer heat in the desert below and a way to keep his players focused on preparing for the coming season. It’s still used today for that purpose.
Kush was one of the most physically-demanding coaches in the college game, a byproduct no doubt of his hard scrabble upbringing in the coal country of Pennsylvania. It was that punishing style that helped players not only get stronger, but also led to them bonding with one another in the face of the adversity.
Still famous to this day is a nearby mountain at Tontozona that came to be called “Mount Kush.” It was where players who fell into disfavor with the demanding coach would be put through a grueling run up and down the face of the rugged landmark. The picturesque site is still considered by many to be one of the best training sites in the country for college football.
The Kush name is carried elsewhere in the ASU tradition. The football field at Sun Devil Stadium was named in his honor and he has received numerous awards for his work in the community. He was a former executive director of the Arizona Boys Ranch and was hired by ASU as an assistant to the athletic director in 2000, serving as an ambassador for the school and the sport.
His legacy won’t fade anytime soon. Perhaps the current Sun Devil head coach, Todd Graham, said it best:
“It was a privilege to have known such a coaching legend and man,” said Graham in offering his tribute to his famous predecessor. “His legacy will always be the cornerstone of the Arizona State football program.
“Coach Kush, I will miss you, my friend.”
Graham won’t be alone in dealing with that loss. Frank Kush had a lot of friends and admirers, which we will discover in the days to come.