Forty-five years later, John Smith remembers every drill.
He can tell you what the UCLA sprinters and quarter-milers did on each day of the week. He remembers the long climb on the dirt path, up Sunset Boulevard, the one that thousands of motorists pass each day as they go past UCLA’s back gate.
“Monday it was 5-4-3,” Smith said. “Tuesday it was eight 800s. Wednesday it was three rounds of 300s. Thursday it was five 150s. And when I started coaching, I did the same thing.”
He ran for Jim Bush. “The drill sergeant,” Smith called him.
Bush prized routine. For 33 years USC routinely routed UCLA in its great dual meet. Bush reversed that and made it his routine, too.
“I can still hear him saying that you perform like you practice,” Smith said. “But he was flexible, too. We were working hard one fall and I got myself into pretty good shape. One day I ran 33 flat for 330 yards. He just looked at me and said, “That’s OK. See you in February.’’’
Bush died July 10 from the prostate cancer that he thought he had beaten years earlier. He was 90.
His Bruins won five NCAA championships in an eight-year span, and he coached 30 Olympians, including Smith. Four of his Bruins won Olympic gold, and when he came back to coach USC, Quincy Watts won the Olympic 400 in 1992.
How do you coach speed? Either you’re fast or you’re not. Bush borrowed techniques from German coach Bert Semser, who developed Armin Hary into an Olympic gold medal sprinter. But mainly he relied on the comfort of structure and his own formidable carriage. Bush acted as if he expected to win. Function followed form.
He became the UCLA coach because his Occidental teams beat the Bruins three times. Back then the Bruins’ coach was Ducky Drake, who was also the trainer for all sports and was increasingly put-upon.
When volleyball coach Al Scates would tell Drake that four of his players needed to get taped, Drake would reply, “Which ones are starters?”
Before that, Bush developed a powerhouse at Fullerton College, where the 400 meter record set by Dave Parsley and Randy Benson in 1961 remains unbroken. Four members of the Fullerton Hall of Fame ran or jumped for Bush.
But Bush’s legacy was the way he made the water run uphill in the UCLA-USC series.
USC had never lost to UCLA. In 1961 the Trojans beat the Bruins by 50 points. But in Bush’s second year, UCLA won 86-59. The Bruins had promised him a wedding present, because Bush had made one of his four trips…