Coach Jim Bush—the man who personified UCLA track and field for two decades—is the very worthy subject of our annual spotlight dedication for this, our 40th year edition. With his passing last summer, we reflect on the wonderful legacy of his coaching career, one that touched athletes from simple high school tracks to Olympic stadiums. Successor to the university’s long–time track coach, Ducky Drake (as in UCLA’s Drake Stadium), Coach Bush guided University of California, Los Angeles track and field teams to five NCAA Championships, and seven conference titles. The U.S. Track Coaches Association recognized his success by naming him “Coach of the Year” twice (1971, 1973), a first for any coach in his sport. During his Bruin tenure (1965–’84), Coach Bush elevated the track and field program’s status, making the team far more competitive with cross–town rival, the University of Southern California Trojans. He took UCLA from continual dual meet losses to USC to 13 victories, coaching a who’s who of track and field athletes of the day including Willie Banks (triple jump), Dwight Stones (high jump) and Greg Foster and Andre Phillips (hurdles).
Best known for developing quarter–milers, he coached an impressive list of world record–holders, Olympic medalists and world champions including Quincy Watts, John Smith, Wayne Collett, Benny Brown and Tyree Washington.
Coach Bush was born in Cleveland, Ohio, September 15, 1926, and was raised in Bakersfield, California, attending Kern County Union High School where he played football and ran track. Following his 1944 graduation, and a stint in the Navy Air Corps during WWII, he entered Bakersfield Community College in1947, later transferring to the University of California, Berkeley. After three years competing as a quarter-miler and high hurdler for Cal, his 1951 graduation marked a natural transition from athlete to coach.
The newly–minted coach’s career began in 1952 at the California high school level in Berkeley and Fullerton, with an entry onto the collegiate scene when he was hired as head cross country and track coach at Fullerton Junior College in 1959. In an impressive turnaround, Coach Bush quickly righted the college’s foundering program, taking the team from last place in their conference to winning their first Southern California and State titles in only two years.
Coach Bush had lasting career influence on longtime coach Larry Knuth, who competed for him in 1960 at Fullerton J.C. “He always stressed quality over quantity in his coaching approach on the track.”
His drive and resulting success would catch the attention of Occidental College, and in ’62 the private Los Angeles school named Coach Bush to helm their track team.
At Occidental, Coach Bush applied his proactive style to their program, and in no time “Oxy” racked up three conference titles for both track and cross country, beating UCLA in the process, a first for the school.
“Jim came to Oxy in my junior year after he had experienced a good deal of success in the high school and JC ranks, and I was captivated by his upbeat, enthusiastic approach to his work as a coach, and his devotion to his athletes,” recalls Coach Dixon Farmer, one of Coach Bush’s athletes, and eventually himself Occidental head track coach, now retired. “He was a mentor for me as I got into the profession and remained one of my very best coaching friends for the next fifty years,” says Coach Farmer, calling him a terrific recruiter and judge of athletic talent.
Taking notice of Coach Bush’s accomplishments at Oxy, the athletic director at UCLA tapped him to take over when Coach Drake retired. Twenty years later, Coach Bush himself retired from his position at the university, but he did not retire from coaching. For ten more years he worked with athletes from a variety of Los Angeles–area professional sports teams as a speed and strength consultant, returning to collegiate athletics in 1991 to coach at USC until 1994.
Coach Bush’s outstanding contributions to athletics have been recognized with his induction to multiple halls of fame, including the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame (1987). He passed away July 10, 2017, at the age of 90.
Many thanks to Coach Bush’s wife, Francoise, Coaches Larry Knuth and Dixon Farmer, and Sports Information at UCLA and USC for their contributions to this tribute.
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