As birthday “surprises” go it wasn’t anywhere near the top of Frank Bush’s list. On Jan. 10, Bush turned 50, and was shown the door – fired as linebackers coach of the Tennessee Titans.
“They said it was all downhill at 50 — and they were right,” Bush said, laughing.
But Bush always had wanted to work again with Jeff Fisher, and about 2½ weeks later he got that chance as the Rams’ new linebackers coach. He replaces Blake Williams, whose contract was not renewed following one season with the club.
“Before Jeff had even left Tennessee, he and I had talked about me coming up to Tennessee,” Bush said Thursday at Rams Park. “Of course things didn’t work out. He took some time off. And then I get fired and they had their situation with Blake . . . and then it just worked itself out.”
So here he is. Although Bush’s hiring wasn’t announced until a few days later, he arrived at Rams Park on Jan. 25 to finalize things. Guess who was the first guy Bush saw when he arrived on the 25th?
Yep. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
“I flew in, they dropped me off, I go upstairs, and – bam – there he was,” Bush said.
Bush actually has known of Laurinaitis for some time.
“I actually coached one of his good friends, (safety) Dominique Barber,” Bush said. “They played high school football together. Dominique played for us in Houston, so I’ve known Laurinaitis for a little while.”
Bush has been getting to know Laurinaitis, the player, much better as he studies Rams game film and gets acclimated to his new job.
“He’s always been a good player, but he’s an extremely smart guy,” Bush said. “So I’m excited about that part of it.”
As for outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Bush didn’t know much about him coming in.
“He was a surprise,” Bush said. “After going back watching the tape, Jo-Lonn did a good job. He flashed a lot. He was physical. Had a little surliness to him, which I kind of like.”
The linebackers room is where Bush has spent most of his 20 years in NFL coaching. Only natural, since he played linebacker at North Carolina State, and then was a fifth-round draft choice by the Houston Oilers in 1985.
He started 11 games as a rookie, but then a promising career was cut short by a surprise medical discovery early in his second season. He went numb after delivering a hit in Game 3 against Kansas City.
“They thought maybe it was just a pinched nerve or whatever,” Bush recalled.
Additional testing revealed that Bush had a narrow spinal canal, a condition that made it too risky to play.
“Basically, they were saying you could play another 10 years and nothing happens,” Bush said. “Or you can play 10 minutes and something happens. I couldn’t find anybody basically to release me to let me play.”
His playing career ended just like that.
“I was bummed,” he said. “It was like somebody pulled the rug out from under me. It was shocking.”
He stayed on with the Oilers as a scout for the next five years, thinking that was his best career path in the NFL. Coaches, he noticed, got fired much more often than scouts, so he thought the job security would be better there as well.
However, he took part in a couple of coaching internships during that time and was bitten by the coaching job.
“You kind of get that itch to be around it, and then you see instant results,” he said. “You get the juices flowing again when you’re close to the game. And it’s the best decision I ever made – to get into coaching.”
Bush switched to coaching in 1992 with the Oilers, and has been there ever since, with additional stints with the Denver Broncos (1995-2003), Arizona Cardinals (2004-06), back to Houston with the Texans (2007-10), Tennessee (2011-12), and now St. Louis.
“I’ve known Frank a long time in this league,” Rams assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said. “One of the better coaches in this league. He’s done it all, from scouting, to position coach, special teams coach, coordinator. So we’ve got us a really good football coach.”
Bush worked with McGinnis in 2011 on the Titans’ staff, but they’ve known each other much longer.
“Everybody knows Mac,” Bush said. “He’s genuine. He’s exactly the same all the time. And he’s real quick to pick up the phone to help you out if you need it. So throughout the years you develop a relationship. That’s kinda what I did with him.
“He’s got a tremendous amount of knowledge, and a tremendous amount of patience. He can see things. For some of us younger coaches, we’re attacking things like a bull in a china closet and he can pull you back and say, ‘Hey look. Slow down a little bit. Look at it like this.’ ”
Way back in ’94, when he was an assistant in Houston, the Oilers hired a young, up-and-coming defensive coordinator in Fisher. So Bush and Fisher go way back.
“He was very similar (in 1994) to what he is now,” Bush said. “High energy, but not a loud talker. Very sharp. He has some different kind of ideas. . . . I know what kind of person he is. I know what he brings as a head coach. I know what kind of teams he puts out there on Sunday.”
Even in the linebackers room, Bush has a very familiar face helping him in assistant LBs coach Joe Bowden, who was part of Fisher’s original St. Louis staff in 2012. Back in 1992, Bush’s first season in coaching, the Oilers drafted Bowden in the fifth round.
“He was one of the first linebackers I coached,” Bush said. “So it’ll be good to work with him again.”