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COLUMN

Snider's Isaacs, Bush make Hall of Fame impact

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For more on sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Retirement doesn't mean a coaching goodbye

Friday, June 20, 2014 - 10:19 am

Russ Isaacs stalked into the Snider cafeteria in the summer of 1976 with blazing dark eyes, an intimidating black Fu Manchu mustache, a glare that could melt steel, and a lean physique well suited for hand-to-hand combat.

Whispers came in his wake.

Who is that guy?

Tell me he's not the new wrestling coach.

Snider wouldn't hire that guy, right?

Then came the official word -- Isaacs was the new coach.

Reaction was immediate:

Oh, no!

And then, when the heart of gold showed the lie to the warrior appearance, whispers morphed to applause.

Hold that thought.

Russ Bush demanded during Snider practices and games with drill sergeant vigor, and if it came from chewing gum bubble emphasis, don't be deceived. Compromise was for somebody else, and it was as rigid upon his 1971 arrival as it is today.

Do it right, or do it again.

Hold that thought, as well.

Isaacs and Bush were recently inducted into the Region 3 Indiana Football Hall of Fame, and no one on the planet is more deserving.

Yes, we'll get to that.

Officially, they have retired from Fort Wayne Community Schools. After 38 years of teaching mixed with dean-of-boys duties, and then the last five years as athletic director, Isaacs is done with that. Bush's 43-year class-room teaching run is over.

Their impact, says Snider football coach Kurt Tippmann, goes way beyond athletic accomplishment.

“They have been the cornerstone, not only of the football program, but really of the whole school.”

During a recent retirement dinner, a retired Snider teacher said Isaacs might be the most influential person the school has ever had

“(The teacher) got a round of applause,” Tippmann says, “because so many people agreed.”

As for coaching, well, Tippmann is no fool. Isaacs, whose five-year athletic director run officially ends June 30, is returning to his coaching roots. Bush will remain on the Snider staff. This arrangement will last as long as they want.

“Both are committed to coaching, and being a part of the staff,” Tippmann says. “That role will develop what they want it to be. Ike will probably coach the offensive line. Coach Bush will probably be on defense.”

Isaacs compiled an 18-year head coaching record of 194-32. That included the 1992 state championship, as well as state runner-up finishes in 2002 and 2004. Before that he spent 15 years as a Panthers football assistant coach.

Let's just say taking the athletic director job represented duty over passion.

Snider has played 555 football games during its 49 years of existence, and Bush has been an assistant coach for 502 of them, more than 350 of them victories. That includes three other state runner-up finishes, two with former coach Mike Hawley, one with Tippmann.

Isaacs and Bush coached some of the greatest players to ever perform in Fort Wayne, including NFL Hall of Famer Rod Woodson and ex-Indiana University standout Vaughn Dunbar.

Their impact has lasted more a couple of generations. Consider Matt Teegarden, a Panther linebacker from the late 1970s and now a licensed clinical social worker in the Denver, Colorado, area.

“Coach Bush and Ike, along with coaches Mike Hawley and (former assistant coach) Dean Fast, may he rest in peace, shaped the man I am today,” Teegarden says. “They filled a critical void in my life, and I will be forever grateful.

“Now, as a grown man, three days do not pass without a memory of those years or the opportunity to employ as lesson or an element of strength or love that these men provided me.”

Isaacs arrived at Snider as the head wrestling coach as well as a football assistant coach. In wrestling he compiled a seven-year record of 78-6-1 with seven SAC titles, seven sectional championships and two regional crowns. He also had a sixth-place state finish. He later became a wrestling official good enough to work multiple state finals, and made the state wrestling hall of fame.

But Isaacs is so much more than that.

“Ike has been so influential to me,” Tippmann says. “I don't know anybody who cares more about young people than he does. It's not just talk. Behind every word is conviction and action. His imprint is everywhere on the people he has worked with -- from the words we say, to our actions. It's a direct reflection of him.

“He always had a plan, and then a backup plan, and then a backup plan for the backup plan. We worked long and hard, but he always made it fun. He always stressed that our job was to put our kids in the best position so they could be successful.

“The new talk now in education is of accountability. Well, he's been doing it for years. If a kid didn't play well, the first person you looked at was the coach. Maybe we're not coaching him well enough. We're not teaching it right.

“He treated everybody the same. They all had the same value in his eyes. You push kids to do their best. It's not about winning as much as the development of the kids.”

Bush also was an assistant coach under Hawley for Snider's 1974 state track championship. He was the track head coach for five seasons in the late 1970s.

“He was the first coach to yell at me,” says Tippmann, a Panther player before he became a Panther coach. “I remember as a freshman, my first day of contact, I beat the receiver trying to block me and made a great tackle. At least, I thought it was a great tackle. But he was in my face about the way I tackled. I led with my head. It was a safety concern. He indoctrinated me into the Snider way, the same way I'm sure he chewed out Rod Woodson and Vaughn Dunbar.

“Coach Bush is a Hall of Fame coach because he's made Hall of Fame people. You remember him by his relentlessness in holding you to a standard. If you didn't do it right, he'd yell, 'Start over!' 'That one didn't count!'

“He didn't care who you were, how good you were, how many games you started, or what your last name was. He would hold you to that standard. He wouldn't budge.

“People ask me if Coach Bush is the same guy. Does he still hold that standard? When I tell them yes, they say, 'Good.' Not because they want every class to suffer like they did -- well, there is probably a little bit of that -- but in their adult lives when they do things they still hear that voice saying, 'It's not good enough. Do it again.' It serves them well as adults. That's why people respect them so much.”

And so the respect will continue this fall at a Snider game near you. And if it comes with a glare or a shouted word or do-it-over mandate, well, excellence comes with a price, passion has its purpose.

The Hall of Fame, you see, isn't for those who compromise.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.