TEMPE, Ariz. – Frank Kush, the fearsome coach who transformed Arizona State from a backwater football program into a powerhouse, died Thursday. He was 88.
“Coach Kush built ASU into a national football power,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said in a statement. “He taught us how to make football work, and he put ASU on the map long before it was a full-scale university.
“Throughout his life he maintained his strong connection to ASU, working with coaches and devoting time to the football program. By growing ASU football he helped us build the whole university into what it is today. He will be sorely missed.”
Kush was 176-54-1 with the Sun Devils from 1958 to 1979. His teams won two Border Conference and seven Western Athletic Conference titles.
Arizona State won the Peach Bowl in 1970 and the first three Fiesta Bowls. His 1970 team was 11-0, and the 1975 squad went 12-0, capped by a 17-14 Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska, and finished a program-best No. 2 in the country.
Dan Kush, the coach’s oldest son, told The Arizona Republic that his father suffered from dementia.
“He started to run out of gas,” Dan Kush said. “Everybody remembers this great individual from the `70s. You think of Ronald Reagan or John Wayne, these great public figures in their prime, and that’s the image everybody has. At times it was tough because people had high expectations and realized where he was at. That’s just part of life.”
Danny White starred at quarterback under Kush from 1971-73, leading the Sun Devils to a 32-4 record.
“If you know Frank Kush and the kind of man he was, his (recent) life has not been a life you would have wished on anybody,” White told the Republic. “That mortal body that was holding him back and giving him so much pain is gone. He’s a happy man once again.”
Kush was known for disciplining players with runs up and down “Mount Kush,” the steep hill close to the Sun Devils’ preseason Camp Tontozona facility near Payson. That intense style figured prominently in his firing in October 1979 for what the university said was his interference in an internal investigation of allegations by a former player of physical and mental harassment.
Kush coached the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1981, and directed the NFL’s Colts for two years in Baltimore and one in Indianapolis from 1982 to 1984, compiling an 11-28-1 record.
“Frank was as old-school as they get, a true `General Patton’ of the gridiron,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement. “Although his legendary collegiate success did not transfer to pro ball and his time with the Colts was brief, Frank Kush was one of our game’s most colorful personalities and he will be missed.”
Kush finished his coaching career with the Arizona Outlaws of the USFL in 1985. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
One of 15 children from the Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Windber, Kush played at Michigan State, from 1950-52, helping the Spartans win the national championship in his final season.
Kush coached the Fort Benning football team during a stint in the U.S. Army. He came to Tempe in 1955 as an assistant under Dan Devine, and took the head coaching job in December 1957 when Devine left for Missouri.
After a period of estrangement, Arizona State welcomed back Kush in 1996, holding a “Frank Kush Day” and naming the playing field at Sun Devil Stadium “Frank Kush Field.” He was hired as an assistant to the athletic director in 2000, helping with fundraising.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the Kush family,” current Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said in a statement. “It was a privilege to have known such a coaching legend and man. His legacy will always be the cornerstone of the Arizona State football program. Coach Kush I will miss you my friend.”
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