When Frank Kush left the Indianapolis Colts to become head coach of the Arizona Outlaws, the horror stories followed him.
Too demanding, his former Colts players said. Too tough on players. Too uncompromising.
The descriptions were nothing new to Kush, who became a coaching legend during his 22-year tenure at Arizona State. He has always been known as a strict disciplinarian.
However, there have been few complaints about Kush from the Outlaws camp.
“There was a lot of apprehension at first on the players’ parts, but it’s been the total opposite,” said quarterback Alan Risher. “He’s really been laid back, more of a players’ coach. A lot of guys feel the same way.”
Frank Kush a players’ coach?
Is this the same man who once, after an embarrassing loss at Arizona State, marched his squad back onto the field for a post-game practice?
“I think the big thing is he’s more relaxed,” said all-USFL defensive lineman Kit Lathrop, who played under Kush at Arizona State and now is reunited with his old coach in the Outlaws camp. “He’s more willing to show happiness on the field. It used to be rare that he would crack a smile.”
Kush, meanwhile, says it all “depends on what you call mellowing.”
“I’ve always felt very adamant about this: if the people are doing what you want them to do, then you don’t have to get vociferous and you don’t have to be yelling and screaming,” he said. “I was the same way in college -- if they were doing what you expected them to do within their limitations, then you appreciated them for doing it and maybe you didn’t have to get on them.”
He said the team’s willingness to reach its potentials was also important to him.
“The more talent they have, the more I expect out of them. I want people to be successful, I care for people to be successful,” he said. “If I’m doing to chew their back end out because they’re not doing well, then I’m doing it for their own good. When I lose that, then I should get out of coaching.”
Kush was extremely successful during his years at Arizona State, where he compiled a 176-54-1 record, including a 12-0 mark and No. 2 ranking in 1975, the Sun Devils’ best-ever finish.
However, Kush was fired midway through the 1979 season amid allegations that he punched a player during a 1978 contest against Washington and then lied to cover the incident up.
Kush was exonerated of the charges, but an NCAA investigation into the Sun Devil football program uncovered a phony-grade scandal that placed Arizona State on probation for two years.
Five years later, Kush still refuses to comment on his dismissal, saying, “That’s all history.”
But Kush remains a legend among long-time Phoenix-area football fans, whom the 56-year-old coach now must face again. However, he says he won’t let that get in the way of his new coaching assignment.
“I don’t worry about tarnishing images,” Kush said. “It’s not going to be any more tarnished that it has been before. I don’t get concerned about that and I don’t think anybody else should. You’re going out there and you’re practicing with the idea of preparing to win and that’s the most important thing. Winning takes care of itself.”
Some eyebrows were raised when Kush left the Colts to jump to the USFL, but Kush says one of the major reasons behind the move was that it gave him a chance to return home.
“Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I would wind up back in Arizona,” he said. “We retained our home here and it’s just like coming home. Just being aware of the area and the environment which I enjoyed previously -- that’s one of the specific reasons I did come back.
“When I first came across the southern part of the United States to come to Arizona State, upon entering Arizona I thought to myself, ‘Good gosh, what have I gotten myself into?’ But eventually you develop an appreciation for the desert and a certain degree of admiration for the sunsets, the sunrises, the mountains, the snow. I love Arizona.”
Lathrop believes that returning home may have been the primary cause behind the alleged mellowing of Kush.
“I’m sure he’s glad that he’s home, because this is home for him,” Lathrop said.
After pausing a moment, Lathrop adds to that statement, based on his previous relationship with Kush at Arizona State.
“But if somebody dogs it, I’m sure (Kush) is still going to jump on his case pretty hard.”