Longform

Mean Season

Page 5 of 10

At 57, his coaching career had reached a dead end. Working at the Boys Ranch would allow him to instill the same sense of discipline that Kush's parents taught him as a child. It had helped him climb his way out of a life of destitution, as one of 15 kids growing up in Ohio in a home above a coal mine.

What started as a voluntary role turned into a full-time position as executive administrator of the Boys Ranch. At Kush's suggestion, the Boys Ranch put more emphasis on vocational training. It also sought accreditation as a legitimate high school, allowing it to start a high school sports program.

In the fall of 1994, Kush helped launch the football program, primarily concentrating on instructing the offense. He says he merely "helped out" for a year, to educate the other coaches on how to put a team together. His co-head coach that year was Rayotis Perkins, a University of Virginia alumnus who played defensive end in the NFL for both the Cowboys and Cardinals. The 34-year-old Perkins is now an assistant coach at the Boys Ranch, but rotator-cuff surgery this summer has limited his ability to work with the players.

That first-year team was raw, but hungry to learn, and it achieved a respectable 4-5 record. The following year, Kush stepped aside as coach. He returned to what had been his primary role at the Boys Ranch: promoting the facility to other states, and interviewing prospective residents to see "if they have remorse and want to be helped."

His promotional role has taken on greater importance since Contreraz's death and the media firestorm that followed.

"I get involved extensively with judges and probation officers," Kush says. "For example, I was in Indiana a few weeks ago and I took judges and probation officers -- unfortunately -- to the Arizona State-Notre Dame game. Also, I visit with the parents, and kind of give them inside information about how their youngsters are doing. Basically, community relations is a significant part of it."

It's a strange irony of the Boys Ranch's current PR dilemma that it's trying to shake a reputation as a haven for brutality by relying on the credibility of a man once vilified as the cruelest coach in America.

Nonetheless, Kush has been a powerful advocate for the Boys Ranch, and his controversial coaching methods seem in tune with the facility's emphasis on unyielding discipline. And, somewhat surprisingly for someone often perceived as a win-at-all-costs tyrant, Kush sounds remarkably sympathetic when discussing this year's winless Boys Ranch squad.

"I feel sorry for those kids," Kush says. "None of them really played to any degree prior to coming out here, so they have no concept and you can see that in their play, but you can also see the gradual progress our people have made with them.

"What I'm impressed with is their intensity on defense, and that's where you can really tell, because they haven't quit. Normally, kids get clobbered as badly as they have and they get so discouraged. Fortunately, they haven't done that, and they continue to hang in there."

One of Kush's strongest supporters is Alvin Moore. Moore, 40, works with the Spartans offense, specializing on the running backs. He only played a year-and-a-half under Kush at Arizona State, but Kush's methods continue to shape his own philosophy.

"He was a good man," Moore says of his ex-coach. "He made players out of a lot of guys who didn't want to be players. The ones who really didn't want to play football, either they were going to get off the pot or they were going to quit. He's a good motivator and he knows how to get the best out of people. To me, the guys who couldn't play for coach Kush, they didn't have much guts anyway, they were basically quitters."

Of the four Boys Ranch coaches with NFL experience, Moore's football résumé is the most impressive. After an outstanding career as a running back at Arizona State, he was drafted in the seventh round by the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts in 1983. He played two years with the Colts, two with the Detroit Lions and wrapped up his career in 1987 with the Seattle Seahawks. At Detroit, he helped fill the gap between the golden eras of Billy Sims and Barry Sanders. Moore's best season came in 1985 with the Lions, when he rushed for 221 yards, caught 19 passes for another 154 yards, and scored five touchdowns.

When Moore retired from the NFL, he returned to his hometown of Coolidge, where he worked as a substitute teacher, assistant football coach and track coach. But he says he was going out frequently at night, and blowing a lot of the money he'd earned in the NFL.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia