Don James remembers his payback on Frank Kush

A hot, dark, 1975 night it was, in the Tempe desert, with the regular crack of thunder overhead, periodic flashes of lightning in the distance, swirling winds permeating throughout the stadium, and a dash of rain appearing for a brief spell. None of this did anything to quell Arizona State's speedy Sun Devils, who were en route to whipping Washington, and taking the first step to a 12-0 campaign.

The Huskies' very first play of scrimmage foretold disaster, when Harold (Warren) Moon handed off to Robin Earl, the ball was fumbled, and ASU took over at the Husky 28 yard line. But it was what transpired in the final minute of that game, which would enrage the visiting Huskies, and their brand-new, unknown head coach.

"My first game as a Husky coach was at Arizona State," recalled Don James recently to Sports Washington Magazine. "They were up two touchdowns on us and called a time out with :03 left to score again to go up 35-12."

Washington was trailing 28-12 with 2:00 left in the game. The Huskies made four attempts to get a first down, but a final Moon pass fell incomplete, and the Sun Devils took over at the UW 18-yard line. ASU proceeded to call three time outs in the final minute, including one with :03 left, to score again from 3-yards out. Washington was incensed at the Sun Devils, and at their head coach Frank Kush.

"Frank Kush said after the game that he blamed the players for doing that," said James. "My argument to that is, well fine, have your quarterback take a knee."

The two teams wouldn't play again until 1978. In recollecting that rematch now, James' voice raises and his face lights up as he describes what occurred.

"Well FOUR YEARS it took to get back," he said, as he pointed to the Husky Stadium field. "We got 'em out here, and it was THE MOST prepared football team I think I ever had. We kicked their butts 41-7… You asked me which one was my most fulfilling game, that one would be right up there."

Arizona State had a quick-strike offense, with emphasis on the short passing game. The Husky defenders got their hands up early and often, batting down five Mark Malone passes and picking off three more.

Said Husky linebacker Michael Jackson after the game: "They throw the quick pass to try to catch you off guard. And when you throw it that quick you almost have to throw it low. They've hurt every team that they've played with this. We knew that if we let ‘em do it to us, they'd pick us apart. So we came in there with our hands up."

The Huskies were all joyous after the game. Reporters brought up the revenge factor from four years earlier. "The players mentioned that '75 game a lot more than I did," insisted Don James following the victory. Said Husky QB Tom Porras with a grin, "Yeah, I've heard about a few times from the seniors."

Arizona State had entered the '78 rematch with a stellar defense allowing just 83 yards a game on the ground. But Washington amassed 290. And the Husky defensive line completely shut down the ASU rushing attack. Said Sun Devil coach Frank Kush following the contest: "Up front on our offensive line, if you'll pardon the expression, Washington kicked the hell out of our offensive line… Offensively we were just very inept, and their defense, which is about the best defense we've played against all year, just came out and took it to us."

Kush had a few other choice words while seething and venting to reporters after the game. "We're looking for people who have the courage to run the ball back," he said. "We couldn't return anything today… And we just don't have a punter. That one kid who kicked for us was a pretty good high school kicker. He kicked for a 41-yard average in high school. But he hasn't done anything for us this year. I don't think we can kick the ball over 26 yards. We need to do something about that. Our kicks gave Washington good field position all day."

Actually, Kush already had done something about the kicking game, taking things literally into his own hands. "He punched his player and got sued," recalled Don James.

It was the case—following the Sun Devil punter kicking the ball and watching it veer erratically out of bounds, for a woefully short distance. As the punter jogged off the field, he saw his hard-charging coach get right in his face. In the midst of an expletive-laced tirade, Frank Kush hauled off and slugged his punter.

Said former Husky linebacker Antowaine Richardson recently: "We all saw it! We had captured it on film and saw it (the next day). The punter had just shanked a punt. Kush came out and grabbed him and punched him."

"That game started Frank Kush's downfall," said Don James.

And a year later, in mid-season, Kush was forced out of his job. Bad kicking games has cost may a coach his job, but not in this fashion.
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories