Craig Busch left an all-day meeting last week to hear five of his soccer players were suspended from school for their participation in a food fight.
The Mead coach was shocked.
The pressure of replacing a local prep legend - Dick Cullen - was enough, but the Greater Spokane League opener was 24 hours away and he was short five senior starters.
The Panthers reeled in their new coach hook, line and sinker.
However, that’s not the reason “the transition has been really, really easy,” said “suspended” forward Jon Carros. During the 12 years Cullen was head coach for the Panthers, when they won 12 GSL titles, when they compiled a 188-23-17 record, when they placed in the top four at state four times, including second last year, Busch was his assistant.
With Cullen becoming activities director, the hardest shoes to fill are Busch’s.
“The pressure on me is knowing that I can’t expect the same thing out of Travis (Hanson, the new assistant) that I would out of myself in his position,” Busch said. “That took years to develop, the rapport Dick and I had. And definitely, our first couple years were shaky as well. We were on different pages. As time went on … that just developed. That takes time.”
A Lewiston native, Busch has been at Mead since 1980, and has prepared to be a head coach with some of the most successful coaches the school has. Busch was an assistant for Mike McLaughlin in football and Jeanne Helfer in girls basketball. He also assisted Cullen with the girls soccer team, which has a record as impressive as the boys.
“My stamp on things would change, year to year, depending on the team,” Busch said. “I would try to combine some of the better things I’ve seen in each program working with kids and their parents. I’m not saying I can duplicate their success but it sure starts me in the right direction, because I’ve had excellent mentors in that sense.”
But Cullen’s success is always going to be there for comparison.
“I definitely think the spotlight is a little bit more on me,” Busch said. “There’s more pressure, especially living with the record Cullen established, even though I was a part of it as an assistant. I think people are comparing.
“We’re not doing that many different things than Cullen was doing. Having worked that many seasons together, we pretty much developed the same philosophies… . We actually started thinking and talking alike.
Carros said, “How could there not (be pressure). There’s talk of the Cullen legacy but (Busch) has stepped into the role very well. He’s gotten us prepared.”
These days, a team has to be prepared. This is the second year GSL teams play each other once instead of twice in games that count. That doesn’t leave much room for a bad game, and there are at least six dangerous teams.
But Busch headed into his first season as a head coach taking some advice from Cullen to heart.
“(Cullen said) to remember that it’s a game and that it’s for kids,” Busch said. “Even though it’s easy for adults to take a lot of pride in the outcome of the events, it’s a growth process, it’s about learning life’s lessons, having success and how to deal with it. That’s what all sports are about.
“The other (thing) is how kids respond to winning and losing… . Qualities that we want people to have in society we push for here. Those are the real message we’re trying to teach these kids … to win with class and lose with dignity.”
Even if the kids fool you sometimes.
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