When George Rush became City College of San Francisco coach at the age of 29, he was believed to be the youngest head football coach in California.
“Now I’m not,” quipped Rush, who is enjoying a phenomenal 5-0 start to the season, his 35th at the helm of the Rams. Through the first five games of the 2011 campaign the perennial community college powerhouse outscored its nonconference opponents 242-28. The Rams open up conference play Saturday on the road against Butte College, the No. 2 team in the state.
“He’s as passionate, competitive and demanding of the student-athletes as he’s ever been,” said Danny Hayes, the Rams’ offensive coordinator who’s been with Rush since the first snap in 1977. “And that’s why the program has stayed at the level that it has stayed at.”
Rush grew up playing street football in San Francisco’s Lakeside neighborhood near Sloat Avenue. As a St. Ignatius defensive back, he developed strong tackling and coverage skills and proved to be a student of the game with good football instincts — a coach in the making.
In 1966, he played on coach Dutch Elston’s national championship City College team that featured sophomore running back O.J. Simpson. Rush earned a scholarship after the 1967 season to San Fernando Valley State (now Cal State Northridge), where he was a starting safety and graduated with a degree in physical education in 1970.
Rush’s first coaching stop was in Winston-Salem, N.C. He worked the 6 a.m. to noon shift at the Stop ‘n Go before heading to his volunteer post coaching the freshmen secondary at Wake Forest.
In the spring of 1971, Rush visited home during spring break from College of the Canyons in Valencia, where he had secured his first paid coaching gig.
“I swung by City College to say ‘hi’ to coach Elston,” Rush said.
His mentor unexpectedly asked him if he’d like to return, and Rush replied, “Would I! Where do I sign up?”
The 40-year run had begun. Rush served as secondary coach in 1972, defensive coordinator from 1973-76, and accepted the head job in 1977, after Elston’s retirement.
Success was not immediate for the young coaching staff.
“The program had struggled to a degree in the early and mid-70s,” Hayes said. “When coach came in there was a lot of work that needed to be done; we took our lumps along the way.”
Rush has amassed 19 conference titles along with 12 Northern California and six state championships during his reign. The Rams haven’t had a losing campaign since Art Agnos was mayor, including a 20-year stretch that included no season with more than two losses.
Opportunities to leave CCSF have been plentiful and admittedly tempting, particularly when his friend Pete Carroll tried to lure him to USC. Rush is content with his decision to stay put, devoting his energies toward sending hundreds of his players over the years to Division I programs.
“The revolving door of the coaching life wasn’t one that appealed to me,” Rush said. “It’s cliché to say, but there’s such a sense of family here.”
Rush credits Jane — his wife of 41 years — their three kids and five grandchildren for keeping him grounded through the years. Rush smiles as he recalls a sideline moment during last year’s blowout loss to Mt. San Antonio in the state championship.
“The game wasn’t going well,” Rush said.
The ball boy, 8-year-old grandson Alex, sidled up to him during a particularly tense moment.
“‘Hey grandpa, I forgot to tell you that we got our Christmas tree last night,’” Alex told the coach.
“It puts your life and what you do in perspective,” Rush said.
CONFERENCE OPENER: Saturday, 1 p.m., at Butte College
NEXT HOME GAME: Oct. 22, 1 p.m., vs. Laney College
CCSF RECORD: 290-76-4