Bernie Busken will be the next coach of the Basha football team, pending school district approval, principal Ken James said on Monday.
The Chandler Unified School District Governing Board will review the recommendation on Wednesday night.
Busken is a polarizing figure on the Arizona prep football scene, where he won three state titles at Mountain View but was dismissed in 2002 after allegations of physical and mental abuse of players.
“We know it’s going to draw publicity but we wouldn’t make the hire if we didn’t do our background checks for everything,” James said. “I didn’t know or meet him but he came into the interview and he wasn’t what I expected. I was expecting a brash, arrogant, vision of the man. This was a humble, polite individual you could want.”
Busken led Mountain View to state titles in 1996, 1997 and 1999, finishing 82-9 in his tenure with a 5A-record 40 straight victories from 1996-98.
But he had an acrimonious parting of ways with the school in 2002.
It began when five assistant coaches resigned, citing “philosophical differences concerning treatment of players.”
A subsequent Tribune investigation detailed several incidents of abuse toward players, including "pink bellies" and other hazing rituals. Less than a month after the assistant coaches resigned, the Mesa Unified School District removed Busken as coach.
Busken discussed his past on Monday.
“At the end of the 2001 season, I didn’t like me,” Busken said. “I came back in January (of 2002), and I met with next year’s team. I told them I had said and done some things that weren’t acceptable. ‘Talk is cheap, just watch.’
“We had a great spring. In May, (the investigation and firing) happened. It was frustrating. I was wrong. I should have realized that earlier.”
Matt Pryor, a former assistant under Busken who now coaches the offensive line for Desert Vista, doesn’t believe that Busken has changed, and he said he wouldn’t have his kid play for him “in a million years.”
“My stomach just turns seeing that Basha would choose to go this direction,” said Pryor, who will be writing letters to the school board members. “There are so many qualified, good coaches out there.”
Busken said he’s learned from his mistakes, and understands if people criticize the hire.
“They’re entitled to,” he said. “For most of the last eight years and four months I’ve been working on me getting better, handling situations better. I got my priorites out of whack. The job and the chase was more important than it should have been.”
After various stops following his departure from Mountain View, Busken was hired as an assistant coach at Western New Mexico in 2004, and ascended to head coach in 2007. He went 8-22 in his three-year stint as head coach, including 2-8 last season.
Busken replaces Tim McBurney, who was fired as Basha’s head coach in February. McBurney went 45-24 in six seasons as coach of the Bears, and had been the school’s only football coach.
Seventeen applicants were reviewed and 11 were interviewed. If approved, Busken will also teach physical education at the school.
Busken was in New Mexico on Monday, and is unsure when he will make the move back to Arizona, where he still owns a house.
Busken hopes the players and parents at Basha will wait on making a judgment until they get to know him.
“I don’t think it’s fair to judge anybody by what you’ve heard,” Busken said. “What if it’s wrong? What if it’s right? The only think I ask is come and watch.”
Pryor, who worked with Busken for three seasons, has seen enough.
“This kind of thing really frightens me,” Pryor said.