Bush Legacy: Culture of Opportunity

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

April 6, 2018

CHELSEA – For the first time as Chelsea High School athletic director, Brad Bush has to hire a football coach.

What’s more, he has the unenviable task of replacing himself.

“I would say that nobody cares more about Chelsea football than I do,” Bush said. “It’s important to me that we find the very best person we can.”

Bush has coached the Bulldogs for 21 seasons. But, his coaching background goes much deeper than that.

He played at Ypsilanti High School for Hall of Fame coach Bill Giarmo, graduating in 1988. After playing quarterback at Cornell University in the Ivy League, he returned to Michigan, graduating from Eastern Michigan University, and started coaching for Bill Kohn, another inductee to the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Bush then went to East Kentwood to coach with Giarmo.

Through his own playing days, coaching with those legends of the game and absorbing everything he could from afar, Bush has developed an impressive culture at Chelsea.

“Friday nights in Chelsea are a big deal,” he said. “We want to keep that tradition.”

Bush became the varsity head coach at Chelsea in 1997. At the time, Chelsea had only two playoff appearances. Bush’s Bulldogs went 3-6 that first season. After that, Chelsea didn’t have a sub-.500 finish for 15 years. The Bulldogs have been kept out of the playoffs only once since 1998.

Chelsea has had only three head coaches since 1965.

“I’m fortunate,” Bush said. “I went for a few more years than the other guys. It’s a great place to coach.”

Temperance Bedford head coach Jeff Wood was an assistant with Bush at Ypsilanti during the 1990s and said he thought then that Bush was going to develop into a great head coach.

“We knew he was going to accomplish greatness, not only as a football coach, but as a father, husband and professional in education,” Wood said. “Brad has always won and lost with great class and dignity. He’s a true Hall of Famer.”

If Bush never coaches at Chelsea again, his lasting legacy might be that culture surrounding the Bulldogs program. It’s known for its large number of football players, from middle school through the varsity, and a system that ensures every student athlete on every team leading to the varsity will play in every game. Teams at the middle school, freshman and junior varsity levels all start 22 players each game – with no two-way starters. For a Class B/Division 3 school, that isn’t the norm.

“We’ve had the same philosophy for 20 years,” he said. “Everybody plays in every middle school, freshman and junior varsity game. That’s how we do it. We start 22 kids on every level. Our kids know they will have the opportunity to play.

“Every kid on every level is going to play in every game. On most nights, we play more kids than the other team has players.”

While every school loses some athletes, or potential athletes, along the way, Bush said this system helps maintain a student’s interest in the sport. Often, he said, a player who may not necessarily be a starter as a freshman will learn the game, develop and turn into a starter by senior year.

“We feel that, over time, with repetition and practice, a kid will become an expert at his position,” he said. “For us, this is a big piece. … That was my thing here. I didn’t invent it. I absorbed it, watched it at other places.”

It’s tough to argue with the results. Chelsea won or shared Southeastern Conference championships in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The Bulldogs won seven District championships during the Bush era and played in the 2015 Division 3 championship game, falling to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s at Ford Field

He said he learned how to build a program from Giarmo and how to coach a football team under Kohn. Bush was quick to credit his assistant coaches who have remained with the program for years and helped build the culture. He said the program has sacrificed win-at-all-cost at the lower levels with the goal of developing varsity football players.

“You have to manage it,” he said. “That’s why you need a great staff. We have been lucky here with a great, dedicated group of guys. They always have the ultimate goal in mind.”

Bush said he won’t hamstring the next coach into running his system, but anticipates whoever is hired will buy into the culture after seeing what it’s about.

“The next coach has to run it the way he wants to run it, but I do believe we have created a culture here and we’d like to maintain that. You want to hire the right person who is going to handle the kids the right way.”

In addition to coaching at Chelsea and leading the entire athletic program, Bush also is heavily involved in the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association as a past president, serves on the Michigan High School Athletic Association football committee and has served on the National Federation football rules committee. He’s coached in all-star games and is a true believer in high school sports.

His record at Chelsea is 169-60.

“I have great energy,” Bush said. “I love coaching. I have a great passion for it, but I also know when you need to do certain things. I felt this was just the right time for the athletic department and the football team. It wasn’t one thing that led me to this.

“I love the game. I’m going to be very much involved.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Chelsea's Brad Bush coaches his team during the 2015 Division 3 Final at Ford Field.

MHSAA, MHSFCA to Provide Spring Evaluation Camps for College Football Hopefuls

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 27, 2023

The Michigan High School Athletic Association, in partnership with the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA), will be hosting first-ever Spring Evaluation Camps to provide athletes with aspirations of playing college football opportunities to show their skills and abilities to college coaches at one of five locations.

The one-day camps will take place between May 15-18 at Jenison High School, DeWitt High School, Jackson High School, Brighton High School and Detroit Country Day High School. The MHSAA’s involvement will allow for the opportunity for Division I college coaches to attend, and representatives from college football programs at all levels are expected.

Athletes who will be juniors or seniors in Fall 2023 may register to participate via a link on the Football page.

“This is an attempt by the MHSAA to help our athletes get exposure during the spring evaluation period in a way that does not intrude on spring sports,” said Brad Bush, an MHSAA assistant director and past high school and college football coach. “We are working with the MHSFCA to help put together a first-class experience for the athletes and college coaches.”

Cost is $20 per player, and each registrant will receive a shirt to wear based on the athlete’s graduation year and registration number so college coaches in attendance can monitor their camp performance. College coaches also will receive registration information for each athlete in attendance.

All athletes must have a coach from the athlete’s school staff present at the camp, and that coach must be a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.

MHSFCA executive director Andrew Pratley called the Spring Evaluation Camps a tremendous opportunity for high school athletes in Michigan.

“We are very excited with the partnership with the MHSAA that allows our kids the opportunity to wear a helmet and do drills in front of college coaches in the spring at a minimal cost,” Pratley said. “College coaches are thrilled, and it's a unique opportunity to have the rules waived by the MHSAA at these events only in order to showcase the tremendous talent all over the great state of Michigan.”

The Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) has been devoted to the promotion of high school football since its inception in March 1972. The MHSFCA has more than 2,500 members and provides several educational and development opportunities for members and their athletes, including an annual coaching clinic, an annual leadership conference for coaches and potential team captains, and the annual summer East-West All-Star Game for graduated seniors. Additionally, the MHSFCA’s Leadership Development Alliance is in its third year of training coaches and offering veteran members of the association as mentors.

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.