By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (June 25, 2017) — In the days since former Arizona State football coach Frank Kush’s death at age 88, a few memories return to the backroads of my mind.
He was a larger-than-life legend on ASU’s Tempe campus, even more so in the Sun Devils athletic department.
Everyone knew who he was. Or would quickly learn by mentioning his name.
Decades after he last coached a game for ASU in 1979, Kush’s records remain remarkable, including 19 winning seasons in 21-plus seasons at the helm.
Kush took over for the departed Dan Devine, who went on to coach Missouri, the Green Bay Backers and Notre Dame after leaving ASU in 1957.
A few times in the mid-to-late 1990s, when a large throng of reporters exited the Sun Devil Stadium press box and took the elevator down to field level, Kush was among the notebook- and tape recorder-carrying group. I recall seeing a few look at Kush with awe, as if to say, “Wow, that’s Frank Kush.”
He must’ve gotten this look a million times.
Kush engaged in small talk with the media without the appearance of an ounce of pomposity, and went on his way.
I didn’t converse with Kush dozens of times. We only met a handful of times.
However, I remember interviewing him two times while I worked for the ASU State Press, the student newspaper.
On the first occasion, I wrote a story about the athletic department retiring quarterback Danny White’s No. 11 jersey before the special event. Speaking on the telephone while taking a break from his job as executive administrator of the Arizona Boys Ranch, Kush provided serious, to-the-point answers. No wasted words. Not a lot of flowery adjectives. He simply offered anecdotes and sharp-as-a-tack recollections of White’s arrival on the Tempe campus and details of games that were still quite clear in his mind decades later.
Kush also couldn’t hide his admiration for White as a competitor, leader and accomplished winner. Those were traits that also served Kush well throughout his coaching tenure with the Sun Devils.
On another occasion in the late ’90s, I crossed paths with Kush at a weeknight fundraiser for former ASU offensive lineman Joe Cajic, who was battling leukemia. (Related story: https://edodevenreporting.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/from-the-archives-joe-cajics-battle-with-leukemia/)
Kush joined several former Sun Devils players in giving moral support to Cajic during a very difficult chapter in his life. He also signed autographs, posed for photos with fans and conversed with the media throughout the night. Over the course of a few hours, including during his brief exchange with me as Pat Tillman looked on from a few feet away, Kush repeated the message that giving back to the community is part of the responsibility of being a football player or coach.
And he was right.