FRONT ROYAL – It was impossible to know it at the time, but Randy Bush’s first football coaching job with a youth team nearly 30 years ago also marked his son Brian’s first steps down a path to his coaching career.
The younger Bush, now 30 years old, struggles to recall those moments from his toddler years, but his father remembers his 2- or 3-year-old son tagging along, attending practice whenever he could and orchestrating the rounds of conditioning for that sandlot team of 11- and 12-year-olds in Salem.
“I’d put him on my knee,” Randy Bush recalled on Monday, “and at the end of practice we’d run hills and I’d give him the whistle, and he’d be the one that started it. He’s blowing his first whistle at 2 or 3.”
Years later, Brian Bush would become a two-sport assistant coach at Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke, his alma mater. He coached alongside his son for five seasons while both were assistants in the school’s football program, and Brian Bush served in that same capacity with the Titans’ varsity girls basketball team, of which his father was the head coach for a decade.
Brian Bush landed his first head coaching job with Warren County’s football program last spring, and a year later father and son have once again been reunited under one coaching staff. Randy Bush, who stepped down from Hidden Valley athletics in February after serving 10 seasons as the girls basketball coach and 14 as a football assistant, has joined Warren County as an instructional aide and will serve on his son’s football staff this season.
Serving on the same coaching staff is nothing new to the Bushes. This time, however, Brian Bush is the boss.
“Oh, he’s let me know that,” Randy Bush said of that turn of events with a laugh. “I just want him to remember how I treated him when I was his boss.”
Brian and Randy Bush, alongside the rest of Warren County’s players and coaches, hit the practice field for the first time on Monday in preparation for the upcoming football season.
The elder Bush, who moved to Elkton in February, described his first practice with the Wildcats as “awesome” because he got to be hands-on with the defense, and he’s getting to see first-hand the ins and outs of his son’s program after spending the 2017 season watching from afar.
Brian Bush, whose father attended four Warren County games last season, including the opener and two playoff games, said it’s “pretty exciting” to have his father on his staff, where they can interact on a daily basis.
“The roles have sort of flip-flopped a little bit, but family relationships haven’t changed at all,” Brian Bush said. “We’re still gonna give each other some backlash every now and then and have that father-son type bonding. But it’s a lot of fun. Now instead of him coming up whenever he can to sort of critique what I’m doing or cheer on what I’m doing, now he’s there, and he sees it full speed, and it’s nice to have that aspect and sort of those eyes to help me move forward. Because I know growing up, he’s taught me a lot of life lessons, and he’s taught me a lot about the game of football. Now it’s pretty special (for) not only me to receive that information but this team to receive it as well.”
Randy Bush is coaching linebackers at Warren County and additionally will serve as another set of eyes for his son in the press box during games.
“I’m here for support,” he said. “Yeah, I’m dad first and sometimes I have to take a step back. That’s the process that he and I are gonna have to hash out this year, me especially. … This is his time. I’m here for the support. It’s not about me being here or anything like that. I just wanna be here to support him. If he doesn’t need my support, that’s where I’m gonna have to learn to be hands-off. If he needs advice and stuff, he knows where I’m at.”
Randy Bush has taken a similar approach for the entirety of his son’s athletic career as a player and later as a coach. Recognizing the importance of gleaning knowledge from multiple sources, Randy Bush coached his son only briefly in youth football and made sure he was on Hidden Valley’s junior varsity staff when his son made the varsity squad.
Brian Bush said he is grateful for the chance to experience the styles of multiple coaches, noting that only about 10 percent of his coaching style is original and the rest is taken from his former coaches, including those at Hidden Valley and Emory & Henry College.
That’s not to discount the impact Randy Bush has had on his son’s coaching career. When talking about the values he’s learned from his father, Brian Bush said he could “go on for days” about the things his father has taught him. The value of hard work, Brian Bush said, is one that stands out most.
“That man, he works,” he said of his father. “Growing up, if I didn’t work or if I didn’t put forth the effort, he was gonna let me know about it, and I’ve carried that forward. Once I’m set in my ways of being lazy, well so are the guys that I’m coaching. I’m making sure that these guys don’t see me be lazy. Once I start being lazy, the ball starts rolling downhill, and it’s not a good way.”
As the hierarchy relative to the Bushes’ coaching roles has flipped, so has, to some extent, the role of teacher and student. Randy Bush said he “absolutely” finds his coaching style, even after being this far along in his career, becoming influenced by his son’s approach to the role.
“I always told him too, the day you wanna quit learning about what you’re doing is the day you just need to get out of it,” Randy Bush said. “So even at 53, I still wanna learn.”
Brian Bush, who doesn’t shy away from taking risks on the football field, hasn’t had much luck converting his old-school father to new-school tactics, however.
On multiple occasions last season, he called an onside kick at a nontraditional time, and the Wildcats rallied to beat cross-town rival Skyline in the regular-season finale when their head coach opted to go for two after a touchdown pulled Warren County within a point in the game’s final minute.
Asked how similar decisions will go over this season with his risk-averse father now on the coaching staff, Brian Bush quipped, “I’ll just flat-out ask him on the headset, ‘hey, what would you do here,’ and I’ll probably do the opposite.”
Being his son’s subordinate, RandBush will have to grin and bear it during those situations. But all of that is just fine with him, as he didn’t come to Warren County to alter the path of the program, which went 7-4 and made the playoffs for the first time in three seasons during Brian’s first year.
In fact, Randy Bush’s approach to his latest coaching role is the same that he’s taken with his son his entire life – “Go do your thing, I’m here if you need me.”
“I want him to continue to do his program,” Randy Bush said. “It’s about him, and his program and I’m here to help where I can.”