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John Walters
January 29, 1996
Super Bowl host city Phoenix, like the rest of the 48th state, is sizzling, with more visitors, new residents and big-time sports events than you can shake a cactus at
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January 29, 1996

Barzen Arizona

Super Bowl host city Phoenix, like the rest of the 48th state, is sizzling, with more visitors, new residents and big-time sports events than you can shake a cactus at

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•Meteor Crater, which 49,000 years ago welcomed the earth's largest extraterrestrial visitor (2.2 million tons).

•Four Corners Monument, the only U.S. confluence of four states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

But the most popular sight is "as close as your own backyard," says Neuheisel, the Colorado coach. Just watch the sun go down. "Dusk is my favorite time of day here," says Kathy Kolbe, a Phoenix personnel consultant who works with the Suns. "To gaze at an Arizona sunset is to know you have a soul."

Arizona sunsets. Frank Kush does not look 66. He sits in his office at the Arizona Boys Ranch, 25 miles southeast of Phoenix, his glare as steely as ever. From 1958 to 79 he coached the Arizona State Sun Devils to a 176-54-1 record, including a 12-0 mark and No. 2 national ranking in '75. During that time Kush was just as well known for hurling expletives and bullying his players. Each August he would bivouac his team for a week in the remote Mogollon Rim pine country, 90 miles northeast of Phoenix, at a place called Camp Tontozona—a word that, loosely translated from the Spanish, means "land of fools."

"We had to put a barbed-wire fence around the football field," recalls Kush, "because cattle would come in and crap all over the place." Yes, there was a lot of crap to put up with, and yes, there was a barbed-wire fence, but many a Sun Devil disputed the source of the former and the reason for the latter. Said defensive tackle Kit Lathrop years later, "I hated Kush more than any other man on the planet."

The university finally had to fire Kush in 1979, after Sun Devils punter Kevin Rutledge alleged that Kush had punched him during a game at Washington the previous season. Kush's termination, the administration said, was due primarily to his attempt to cover up the incident. Observers outside the state saw the dismissal as another case of a martinet with a whistle receiving his just due. (Ohio State legend Woody Hayes had been fired just 10 months earlier for socking an opposing player.) But there were many Sun Devils players who thought otherwise, and they demonstrated their loyalty to Kush in a typically atypical display of Arizona defiance. Instead of waiting to carry their coach off the field after his final game the players carried him onto the field before the game.

Kush smiles at the memory and then hands over a brochure from his current place of employment. Founded in 1949, the Arizona Boys Ranch is a private, nonprofit home and school for troubled boys age eight to 18. For the last six years Kush has been the ranch's executive administrator, a role that requires him to serve as both the recruiter of and admissions officer for juvenile offenders. "These kids have committed every crime you can think of," says Kush, "and have had many crimes perpetrated on them. We've got rapists, armed robbers, murderers."

In 1994 the Boys Ranch was accredited by the North Central Association. Besides making the ranch's classes transcript-worthy, the accreditation opened the gates to interscholastic competition. And Kush thought, Why not football? His last in-state coaching job had been in 1986 with the USFL's Arizona Outlaws, and now he would go back on the gridiron with a bunch of....

"Ironic, isn't it? But this is my clement," says Kush, who was one of 15 children in a Pennsylvania coal-mining family. "I know what it's like to be poor. And I got in trouble. The difference is that unlike these kids, I was raised in a family environment. I had discipline in my life." Another difference: He knew how to play football, going on to become a lineman at Michigan State. "These kids had no concept of a shoulder block or catching a pass or long-snapping," says Kush, who designs all of the boys' offensive and defensive sets but has one of his former Sun Devils players, Richard Gray, serve as head coach. "I remember one kid asked me how many yards it takes to get a first down!"

Kush is not wanting for money. And his job holds little prestige. Why does he do it? "I might've ruined some kids in my early days by pushing too far," he admits. "Then again, I might've saved a few. That's the key to coaching: teaching discipline and perseverance, pushing kids beyond what they believe is their limit."

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