With week one officially behind the Arizona State Sun Devils, head coach Todd Graham took time not only to discuss the current state of the program, but two pillars of its history: Frank Kush and Pat Tillman.
Graham said this week is “special” for him and his team, as they’ll honor former head coach Frank Kush, who passed away in June at the age of 88. ASU will wear the sunburst logo on its helmet this week in Kush’s memory, but his impact on Graham resonates far further than that.
Graham first met Kush in the mid-1990s when the former superintendent of Allen High School, where he coached at the time, took a job in Arizona. Graham toured ASU’s facilities and then met with the former coach in what ended up being a bit of foreshadowing for Graham’s own life.
“He was so gracious,” Graham said. “I remember meeting and sitting there, took a picture with him and looked out the window and said ‘what an incredible place this is,’ not knowing that years later I’d be the head coach here.”
Since becoming the head coach of the Sun Devils, Graham and Kush’s relationship evolved.
“I just enjoyed talking to him,” Graham said. “I enjoyed having coffee with him... He just reminded me of the type of men that influenced my life.”
Kush was around the team to the end, not mincing words when the team struggled.
“You didn’t have to worry about what he thought,” Graham said. “He’d tell you. I like people like that.”
On the other side of the coin, the Sun Devils have honored Pat Tillman every day since his passing and Graham has adopted his memory into everything the football program does.
A new statue of Tillman debuted Thursday night behind the north end zone. Before entering through the new Tillman Tunnel, Graham said the team played a three-minute highlight video of the fallen star and that the atmosphere in the locker room changed with each highlight.
“It was interesting to watch our players,” Graham said. “As they came on, you would see guys look and then they would stand up. Then there’d be more guys standing up, more guys standing up. Then you’d see guys moving around... It was pretty cool.”