"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." — Jackie Robinson
The quote is a fitting testament to Matt Bush, the Purdue Northwest and former Morgan Township basketball coach who died Sunday at the age of 62, leaving a legacy of colleagues and players shaped by their time with him.
"He started my career," said Hebron coach Mike Grennes, a Morgan graduate who was hired by Bush as an assistant there in the late 1990s. "He was my main mentor. I can't tell you how many things I've done that I learned through Matt. My brother and I both played for him and we still talk about how much he influenced us, how much he loved the game. That came out in everything he did. He really enjoyed coaching and really enjoyed the kids."
Successful coaches stress that the profession foremost is about relationships, and Bush was no different. Despite a gruff persona, he had an ability to reach players and they responded.
"He was always tough, honest, old school," Grennes said. "As he got older, he was more understanding. He had a way of connecting with a big range of people, kids. He always found a way. Though he expected a lot, kids still highly respected him. He would get on them, tell them the way it was, but they would go through walls for him."
Grennes also knew a personal side of Bush, hanging out after games at his house, where he had a working scoreboard in the basement. On a good night, he'd punch in the final score.
"The first thing with Matt was learning, but it was fun afterward," Grennes said. "He was a character. We'd sit at the kitchen table two, three hours and talk about the game. He always called my youngest son (Drew) 'Mooch' for trying to take his food. People would come through the house, family, friends. He was always the center of the room."
Bush finished his second season at Purdue Northwest in February, guiding the Pride to a Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament berth in 2017. Prior to taking over the consolidation of Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central, Bush coached three seasons at the Westville campus. He holds the PNC record for career wins (39) and tied for most wins in a season (15), and his 2016 team was the first to qualify for the CCAC tourney.
"Matt was a wonderful friend and colleague to so many within our university …," PNW Director of Athletics Rick Costello said in a news release.
Prior to coaching at the collegiate level, Bush spent 24 years at Morgan over three tenures — 1981, 1986-2005 and 2011-12. He compiled 258 wins there, piloting the Cherokees to six sectional titles and its sole regional championship in 1999. In 2011, Morgan authored one of the biggest upsets in Region history when it beat Bowman Academy in the sectional final.
"That didn't surprise me one bit with Matt," Grennes said. "You didn't want to play him if they were the underdog. The kids didn't know it, but he'd prepare for weeks for a game. He'd know how to do it and the kids would buy in to what they had to do to win the game. It was like, whatever you say, we will do it."
After graduating from New Prairie, Bush attended Southwestern Oklahoma State University, where he played basketball and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education while also serving as a graduate assistant.
Boone Grove coach Matt McKay went head-to-head with Bush for years, dating back to 1981, and called him the most competitive person he'd ever coached against.
"On top of being an excellent X's and O's guy, his biggest strength was the way he motivated his kids," McKay said. "His kids played so smart and so, so hard. They were an extension of him on the floor. He was one of our game's best. We'd go to clinics and everybody knew Matt, but the Bowman game was what probably opened everyone's eyes."
On the personal side, McKay cherished being able to call Bush a friend, which makes his passing all the more difficult.
"He was just a mountain of a man," McKay said. "Away from basketball, I told people he was the funniest man I've ever known. He could make you laugh more than anybody. With 100 percent authenticity, I can say Matt Bush was Matt Bush. He was the way he was, and that's a trait to admire."
Bush's time at Morgan also overlapped with Marty Gaff's tenure at Kouts, just a few minutes down Ind. 49.
"Those were good times," Gaff said. "You always knew when you played Morgan with Matt it was going to be a battle. They were always going to be well-coached, well-prepared and they were going to play hard. I had a lot of respect for Matt. He was a real competitor. He put a lot into the job. He was a good family man who cared about his kids."
Bush is survived by his wife Janet, son Matty, his assistant coach at PNW, and daughter Angie.
"One of my proudest moments in coaching was the Monday following the (2007) regional," said Dustin Nelson, who was Bush's successor at Morgan in 2006. "We'd just come off a tough loss and Matt told me, Morgan hired the right guy. That was a big compliment coming from him. It was an honor to follow in his footsteps. I'm thankful for the support he gave me and the friendship he extended to me during a difficult time."