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No place to go but up
Mike DelNagro
June 29, 1981
After Arizona State fired Frank Kush, he had to head for Canada to coach again
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June 29, 1981

No Place To Go But Up

After Arizona State fired Frank Kush, he had to head for Canada to coach again

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The name slipped back into the sports pages a few weeks ago. Nothing very elaborate. It was sort of an afterthought, a tag line to a short report out of Montreal. The bulk of the story was about Vince Ferragamo, the former quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams, who the night before had made his first start in the Canadian Football League. Ferragamo and the Montreal Alouettes had lost to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the preseason opener for both CFL teams. The last line of the story said that the game had also been a successful debut for the Hamilton coach, Frank Rush.

Wait a minute. Frank Kush? In Canada? Yup. The former Arizona State coach and taskmaster, who, it was alleged, struck a Sun Devil punter named Kevin Rutledge in the face in 1978 and then, midway through the '79 season, lost his job for supposedly trying to cover up details of the incident, is back in football. When Arizona State fired him, Kush was the second-winningest active college coach—176-54-1 in 21� seasons—behind Bear Bryant. Earlier this year an Arizona superior-court jury cleared Kush of all charges related to the Rutledge affair. Now in Hamilton, Ontario, at age 52, he has begun to pick up the pieces of his career.

Shortly after leaving Arizona State, Kush started looking for another coaching job. He knew he had little chance of landing a college position, so he tried the NFL. He spoke with Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt in Dallas, Art Rooney Jr. in Pittsburgh, Chuck Knox in Buffalo, George Halas in Chicago. No one was interested. His best hope, he was told, was to wait until after the trial, until after the bad publicity had blown over.

In January 1980, Kush said, he had set up a meeting in Las Vegas with Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay, who had fired his coach, Ted Marchibroda, a few weeks before. The morning Kush and Irsay were to meet, a story broke in the Arizona Republic that the FBI was investigating current and former Arizona State coaches and officials on charges of gambling, mail fraud and intimidation of witnesses in the upcoming Rutledge trial. Kush got a call at the Phoenix airport from Baltimore. It was Irsay's secretary. She said her boss' plane had engine trouble and that the meeting was off. Kush and Irsay never did get together.

During his search for a coaching position, Kush worked in Phoenix, first as a supervisor at an engineering firm and then as a sports commentator for KOOL-TV, the city's CBS affiliate. He hated both jobs. "I missed coaching," he says. "Nothing else I did seemed like me."

October 1980 rolled around, and he still didn't have any coaching offers. Enter Hamilton General Manager Ralph Sazio, who also had a problem. Tiger-Cat Coach John Payne and owner Harold Ballard didn't see eye to eye. Ballard enjoyed Payne's company but thought he was too soft as coach—a trait, needless to say, no one ever accused Kush of possessing. As for what Kush was being accused of, that didn't seem to bother Sazio. "His coaching was never a question, and all the accusations, well, I saw him as a poor guy taking a lot of unnecessary crap," Sazio says.

On October 10, Sazio met Kush in Phoenix and, pitched the job. "I sold it as a new challenge and a breath of fresh air," says Sazio. "He needed the air." Six weeks later Kush signed a contract. Two months after that, on Jan. 26 of this year, the Rutledge trial began. It wouldn't end until April 20.

When Kush arrived in Hamilton in January—he had to make only a few appearances at the trial—he must have wondered what he'd gotten himself into by coming to the CFL, where players often hold down outside jobs. His kicker, Bernie Ruoff, sells used cars. One linebacker, Ben Zambiasi, deals in water beds; another, Jack Blair, is a carpenter. Slotback Gord Paterson is a stockbroker, and Center Henry Waszczuk teaches school. According to a CFL Players' Association agreement, Hamilton can't begin practice before 4 p.m. Too many players have other jobs. Kush also found himself with a 33,947-seat stadium—Arizona State played before home crowds of 70,000—no personal secretary and no team weight room. Still, he was enthusiastic, and his ardor impressed Sazio. "He's got it all," Sazio says. "Smart, devoted and tireless." Right off, the players, too, raved about Kush. To wit:

?"First words he said to me were, 'I didn't see you at breakfast—$50 fine.' But you can see fire in his eyes and hear iron in that voice. He's motivated to take this team places. And he's fair."
Oklahoma, 1975-76

?"He's a lot like my college coach, Ara Parseghian—a strict disciplinarian, but not unreasonable. He drives us hard, but it's no problem. I've learned how hard work makes winners. He has, too."
Notre Dame, 1972-74

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