Jim Bush; UCLA track coach mentored Olympic athletes

This July 5, 1979, file photo shows Jim Bush, then-head coach of the U.S. men's track team, at the Pan American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Associated Press Photo/File
This July 5, 1979, file photo shows Jim Bush, then-head coach of the U.S. men's track team, at the Pan American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

NEW YORK — Jim Bush, who coached some of track and field’s most successful athletes, more than 20 of whom competed in the Olympic Games, and led the University of California Los Angeles to five NCAA titles, died on Monday at his home in Culver City, Calif. He was 90.

The cause was metastatic cancer, his wife, Françoise, said.

When Mr. Bush took over for Ducky Drake at UCLA in 1965, the Bruins had won the NCAA championship only once, in 1956, and had never beaten their archrivals, the University of Southern California Trojans. During the next two decades, Mr. Bush coached Willie Banks, who held the world record for the triple jump; Dwight Stones, a three-time world-record-breaker for the high jump; and Andre Phillips and Greg Foster, Olympic medal-winning hurdlers.


Mr. Bush specialized in the 400-meter dash. “I have had more great quarter-milers than anyone in the history of the sport,” he told IAAF magazine in 2004.

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They included Quincy Watts, John Smith, Wayne Collett, Benny Brown and Tyree Washington, all Olympic medalists, world champions or world record-holders.

Before leaving UCLA in 1984, Mr. Bush led the Bruins to a 152-21 record, with seven conference titles, seven dual meet championships and 13 wins over USC in addition to his five NCAA championships. He later became a speed and strength consultant to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kings, Clippers, Raiders and Dodgers, helping the Raiders win a Super Bowl in 1984 and the Dodgers win a World Series in 1988.

He was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1987.

At times, Mr. Bush’s outspokenness nearly overshadowed his winning record. At UCLA he derided colleges that accepted older foreign athletes and intimated that other coaches were breaking rules. Before professionalism came to track and field, he bemoaned the loss of sport for sport’s sake.


“I think they should do away with the Olympics,” he told Track and Field News in 1972. “The purpose of the Olympics is dead. There is no such thing as amateurism. The Games don’t bring people together in peace, but give vent to national hatreds.”

In 1991, Mr. Bush joined his onetime rival, USC, where he coached both the men’s and women’s track teams. But that arrangement was short-lived. He stepped down from coaching the women’s team after some impolitic comments to The Los Angeles Times the next year caused a furor.

“If you try to coach women the same as men, you are going to be in trouble,” he said. “The main thing is, women are more emotional.”

His frankness probably kept him from being head coach of the 1984 US Olympic team.

“I guess I’ve been too candid,” he told The Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1982. “But I was raised by English grandparents who told me to be honest and stand up for what I believe in. It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble, but I’d find it tough to live with myself if I didn’t speak my mind.”


James Stanley Bush was born on Sept. 15, 1926, in Cleveland and grew up in Bakersfield, Calif. His parents divorced while he was young, and his grandparents helped his mother and stepfather raise him. He later told the story of how his grandfather came to the United States from England in 1911 and, one year later, sent for his wife and daughter, who missed the ship they were originally scheduled to take to America: the Titanic.

At the University of California Berkeley, Mr. Bush was a 400-meter runner and high hurdler. After earning a degree in physical education in 1951, he was track and cross-country coach at Fullerton High School in California from 1952 to 1959, working two other jobs at night to support his family.

He was the track coach at Fullerton Junior College and Occidental College before he began his tenure at UCLA. His UCLA teams produced 23 Olympians.

He married Françoise Bernheim in 1981 (three earlier marriages had ended in divorce). In addition to his wife, he leaves a sister, Laura Renfro; a son, Don, and a daughter, Jean Richmond, from an earlier marriage; two stepsons, Gary and Patrick Ruggieri; and more than 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Despite his many accomplishments, Mr. Bush left UCLA an unhappy man.

“It’s just not any fun anymore,” he told The New York Times in 1984. “I see too much cheating going on, too many people not telling the truth. The top Americans are quitting the college teams to compete at the club level. There’s just so much money out there.

“You can’t blame the athletes for doing it. You have to blame the system.”

He retired from USC in 1994 after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer. A decade later, he was coaching individual runners, and his enjoyment of the sport had returned.

“I am just starting to have fun,” he said.