?"Players in this league can influence coaches. Suggest a play, and the coach might put it in. That kind of thing. I've had six coaches in the CFL, and Frank Kush is the first one who isn't like that."
Kent State, 1972-74
There's solid evidence that this early enthusiasm for Kush will sustain itself. For instance, he has the amazing ability to cram an hour of work into about 15 minutes. The day Sazio signed him, Kush asked for films of Hamilton's 1980 games. A week later he sent Sazio a rating of all 60 Tiger-Cats. The names were listed in three columns marked Keepers, Trade, Release Immediately. Kush then contacted all 28 NFL clubs to get the names of players released in 1979 and 1980. He invited about 60 of these castoffs to the Hamilton camp along with some 150 college seniors who were expected to go low in the NFL draft. Thirty players showed up. Among them was Jerome Stanton, a three-year starter at defensive back for Michigan State. Miami cut Stanton in 1979, and he was out of football last year. But against Montreal in that preseason opener, Stanton picked off two passes, returning one 81 yards for a TD. Hamilton won 27-21. Since that win the Tiger-Cats have split two exhibition games. They start the regular season on July 5.
By the time training camp began on May 23, Kush had revised his Arizona State playbook, which is four inches thick, tailoring it to the CFL rules, and had written a 40-page booklet on off-season conditioning. He also persuaded Sazio to put in a weight room. When the players reported, they discovered that weight training would be mandatory. Kush lengthened practices and stressed scrimmages and goal-line drills.
"I still believe in discipline," Kush says. "And the only way to perfect timing is by hitting. That's why we scrimmage a lot. I haven't changed my ideas in 35 years, and I'm not going to change now." He pauses and continues, "Only thing I haven't done is slap a headgear or pull a face mask."
Kush winks. He may be joking. "In college you mold kids, see their progress," he goes on. "You use punishment because you have to play them. Here, if a guy won't do something you get rid of him."
Kush likes the fact that his new job involves only coaching. "The three R's in college no longer are reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic," he says. "They're recruiting, recognition and revenues. The whole system needs reevaluation. That's why I'm against Canadian universities giving athletic scholarships. They'll get involved in the same ills you have in collegiate football in the U.S. With scholarships you get a different perspective of the sport, and your values, as far as education is concerned, begin to become tarnished."
But will Kush become a permanent fixture in Hamilton? He has a three-year contract. He also has many friends in the NFL, and successful CFL coaches often land jobs across the border: Minnesota's Bud Grant worked in Winnipeg; Kansas City's Marv Levy in Montreal; Chicago's Neill Armstrong in Edmonton. And Kush still owns a house in Tempe and has no plans to sell it. He rents a condominium on Lake Ontario, but it isn't furnished. He simply hasn't gotten around to it. Instead he has been staying at a hotel in Hamilton. That will change now that Fran Kush has joined her husband. "Permanent?" says Kush. "I've learned lately that the only thing to expect is the unexpected."
If Kush is using Hamilton as a springboard to the NFL, the plan might prove risky. First, he'd have to win, and besides the usual adjustments a coach has to make in moving from college to the pros, Kush must adapt to CFL rules: 12 men on a side, three downs to make 10 yards, and a wider and longer field than the NCAA's and NFL's. In addition, Hamilton fans aren't exactly looking for a savior. Last year the Tiger-Cats were in the Grey Cup, the Super Bowl of Canada. "The fans are impatient; they want another winner now," says Tony Fitz-Gerald, a football reporter for The Spectator in Hamilton. "He'll hear it if he falls even a little short." It's with good reason that Kush discards speculation that he might have unwisely put his reputation on the line. "It's no gamble," he says, "not when it's your only offer."
A few weeks ago Kush sat in his office, telling of his 18-month ordeal. He paused now and then and his eyes grew wide, as if to ask: Can you believe this?
"Every day I picked up a paper and read something new," he said. "I had to pinch myself a hundred times. It seemed unreal, like it wasn't me they were writing about. One day I'm a Coach of the Year . I'm proud, happy, successful. Then, suddenly, I'm an ogre.