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Nation: Hit ‘Em High

4 minute read

When Kush came to shove

Frank Kush was the classic all-American success story. One of 15 children, he grew up in a company-owned house above coal Mine 35 outside Johnstown, Pa., won a football scholarship to Michigan State University, and in 1958 was named head coach at Arizona State in Tempe. There his Sun Devils became one of the toughest teams in the country. Kush’s coaching record of 176 wins, 54 losses and one tie was second only to that of Alabama’s Bear Bryant.

Kush, 50, has now gone the way of another legendary coach, Ohio State’s Woody Hayes. Three hours before A.S.U. was scheduled to meet Washington, Kush called a hasty press conference and beat university officials to the punch in announcing that he had been fired. Like Hayes, whose roundhouse right to the throat of a member of the opposing team last season led to his dismissal, Kush was canned in the wake of reports that he too had struck a player.

Last month Kevin Rutledge, a former A.S.U. punter and defensive back, filed a $1.1 million suit accusing Kush of assault, public defamation of character and a conspiracy to drive him off the team. In 1977 Rutledge was one of the school’s few freshmen to win a varsity letter, but a 1978 car accident left him weak and underweight. He says that he asked to be red-shirted (sit out the games but attend practices) for that season. Kush scheduled him to play. Rutledge was averaging a poor 34.6 yds. per kick, and in last year’s match with Washington he made a particularly bad punt. As he left the field, Kush allegedly grabbed him by the helmet and punched him in the face.

Kush denies the charges. A self-styled tough guy, he was notorious for driving his players to the limit. His training camp in the Tonto National Forest was known as Kush’s Koncentration Kamp. But Kush claims that he treated players “like my sons.” Says he: “I have slapped kids on the headgear with my hand, and believe me, it hurts my hand a heck of a lot more than it will ever hurt the kids. I want them to look me in the eye.”

Nonetheless, last week A.S.U. Athletic Director Fred Miller released statements from four players who swear that they witnessed the assault. One of them, Steve Chambers, told TIME: “He’s hit me with pipes, boards and a ship’s rope.” Another A.S.U. player said that team members were asked to sign affidavits stating that they never saw Kush hit Rutledge. Some signed. “I learned that Frank Kush was attempting to cover up the fact that he hit Kevin Rutledge,” says Miller. “I could not allow our athletes and coaches to be further intimidated.’ Meanwhile, Rutledge’s family has been the target of threats and violence Last month his father’s insurance agency in Phoenix was torched. Later, the family was told by an anonymous phone caller, “If your boys go out on the football field Friday night, they’re liable to get blown up.” Kevin’s brother Robert, a Gilbert High School defensive back, has played under an alias. Even Attorney Robert King, who represents Kevin Rutledge, received threats on his life. Notes Hing: “I was under the impression that football was supposed to be fun.”

Some fans speculate that Kush’s firing may be part of a university attempt to settle out of court with an apology and token damages for Rutledge. But an influential group of Sun Devils boosters, the Sun Angels, loudly demanded that Kush be reinstated and Athletic Director Miller suspended.

At his final coaching appearance, in which A.S.U. upset Washington 12-7.

Kush was carried off the field by his players while 70,000 fans chanted “We want Kush!” Miller left under police escort.

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