Bernie Busken has avoided the off-field controversy that originally drove him out of town.
Now it’s time to see if the Basha administration made the right call in bringing him back.
The former three-time state champion with Mountain View returned to the East Valley this year to take the head coaching job with the Bears. Basha had been a perennial playoff team under coach Tim McBurney, but failed to take the next step in joining the 5A Division I elite.
Third-ranked Basha has started this season 7-1, but beginning Friday and through the end of the season, Busken’s true impact should be felt. The Bears’ final two games are against No. 2 Mesquite and Mountain View. If they win both, the team will have its first outright region title in school history.
From there, the postseason begins. Basha has always been competitive in the playoffs, but has never made it to the state title game. Last year was a microcosm of the team’s playoff fortunes, as it lost by one point in overtime in the state quarterfinals.
Busken’s hiring had its fair share of criticism, because he was fired at Mountain View in 2002 following allegations of physical and verbal mistreatment of players. But there haven’t been any problemsthus far, and he has enjoyed his first year back on the Arizona sidelines after coaching the last six seasons at Western New Mexico.
“I asked them when I got here, what did they want,” Busken said. “And they wanted to do really well. They knew that I had been a part of doing well in the past, so that helps. They’ve just trusted me to guide them, and they’ve worked really hard. They don’t complain, and if they get to dragging a little bit, we talk about this is what they wanted.”
Busken said this team has worked harder and conditioned more than any other team he’s coached. Quarterback Kyle Duran said there was immediate accountability when Busken set foot on campus.
“He didn’t tell us that we needed to respect him, he expected it,” Duran said.
It’s been an up and down season, as Basha had a solid early-season win against Mountain Pointe but had to rally to beat Gilbert and turn it on last week in the second half to beat Corona del Sol. The team’s loss came against unheralded Cibola in Yuma, which Busken attributed to bad coaching.
Despite the inconsistency, the Bears are undefeated in region, and a win over Mesquite on Friday night would give Basha at least a tie of the Central Region title with one game remaining. A loss would leave the Bears in the familiar position of second guessing themselves over the weekend.
With Busken at the helm, the team feels it is ready to turn that corner.
“I didn’t know much about him at first, but when I learned about his (success), I was pretty happy,” senior linebacker Zach Williams said. “He definitely has an attitude about him that brings a lot of fight and makes his players work hard. I like that. It makes us want to be great.”