There are strange moments in conversation when Frank Kush does not blink. It is when his tough transforms into his trance.

At one moment, it is February and he is running seven miles on Andoy Island in the Norwegian Sea. "I still see myself jogging out there in my sweat suit and my hat," he says. "It is cold, but it is all so natural and magnificent."

At another moment, he is looking down at 30 cadavers with his son David, the med student. "I look down at one of them and realize the only difference between that cadaver and me is life. I realize that some things are so unimportant.

"Life is simple. I am simple. We only make things complicated," Frank Kush says.

Then, there is the blink. The trance is over. The tough returns.

He is a man building for the future, while others live in his past.

"And what do people remember about Richard Nixon?" said Kush, the first-year coach of the Baltimore Colts. "Watergate. They don't remember all of the good things he did, just Watergate. Some people dwell on negatives.

"With me, some people only think about the Kevin Rutledge thing or the shaking of face masks. Now, I'm not saying I'm like the president or anything. But do you see the likeness?"

Frank Kush smiled as though he were not a crook. A bully, maybe. But not a crook. He is 53 years old. A fighter. For 22 seasons, Kush had seemed unimpeachable as coach at Arizona State. The record was 176-54-1, the winning percentage was .764. Among active coaches, only Paul Bryant ranked higher.

Then, in 1979, Rutledge, his punter, sued Kush, alleging the coach punched him after a poor kick during a game. Kush denied it. He won the suit but lost his job.

The Arizona State athletic director accused the coach of a cover-up. Maybe Kush is like the former president, after all. Today, Kush says, "I don't think I did anything wrong."

After an unhappy year out of football, Kush coached the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to an 11-4-1 record and the Canadian Football League playoffs in 1981. "Some people said I was in exile there, but I was reborn there. I was back in football, my element. It was like a two-ton truck was taken off my back."

So when Kush returned to Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium for a 34-3 exhibition victory over the Atlanta Falcons last Saturday night, it figured that the two-ton truck would run Kush into the pavement.

Instead, 56,748 gave him a standing ovation for 35 seconds. Some players said tears ran down his face. Kush said there were none. Just sweat in the 97-degree limelight.

"It was like my hoorah at last," Kush said. "It told me they remembered just one thing: this guy is one hell of a football coach. I think I am the typical American story. It's like I work hard through childhood, abide by the rules, get shot down, then come back on top.

"I'm the same guy everybody was shooting down two years ago. And I'm the same guy everybody was calling the country's greatest recruiter 2 1/2 years ago.

"Some people think I'm a genius. Some people think I'm a jerk. I can tell you this much: I'll never change."

Everybody around the Colts' camp has Frank Kush stories. Most are passed along by whispering through cupped hands.

Rookie Mike Pagel has more Kush stories than most simply because he has been around Kush more than most. The Colts' starting quarterback was recruited by Kush to Arizona State five years ago. He remembers coming to grips with Kush's gripes.

There was his wrath on the practice field. "Yeah, Coach Kush shook my face mask a couple of times at Arizona State," says Pagel. "He hit me on top of the helmet with his whistle once. But he did those things to everybody. If you made a mistake, he was on you quick."

There was his wrath in the film room. "If someone missed a tackle or got beat, Coach Kush would replay the play -- forward and backward -- 10 times, trying to embarrass the player in a strong voice. If you were the player you felt very tiny."

There was his wrath on "Mount Kush," the steep, dirt hill at Arizona State's training camp. "Coach Kush made us run it for punishment. It had rocks and trees. It started flat, then shot up," says Pagel. "If you weren't wearing cleats you wouldn't make it. It was scratch-and-claw, not running. You had to grab branches to make it. It took about 10 minutes to reach the top. Coach Kush would just say, 'You owe me a mountain.'

"One time I remember he just pointed at a player, then pointed to the mountain. The guy's eyes got real big. He knew. Coach Kush didn't have to say. He just knew. The mountain."

Kush says of those days past, "At Arizona State, I felt I was an extension of the father's arm once I recruited someone. I was responsible for that kid in every way. If it meant slapping him on the helmet, I did it. If it meant rattling his face mask, I did it. Hell, I did it for 26 years."

Pagel understood the purpose of it all and, consequently, he understands the coach, too. "A little clean, hard work never hurt anybody," he says, adding, "Well, only for a little bit."

Last year, the Baltimore Colts went through a 2-14 cold front. It was a team more accustomed to underachieving than overworking.

Even for the veterans, there is the ever-present worry that Kush will strip the horseshoe off the Colts' insignia and use it to brand their skulls.

"He intimidates you. A lot of players do things here out of fear," said Nesby Glasgow, a fourth-year defensive back. "Going to Coach Kush's office is like going to the Oval Office.

"His whole aura is intimidating. We all know about the so-called 'atrocities' he has committed. He hasn't hit us or shaken our face masks. In college he could get away with that with 17- or 18-year-old kids. Here, if nothing else, the players would slap him back. We are grown men, some of us have families. We deserve to be treated accordingly."

Kush has heard the veterans talk. He gives it one of those nothing-to-fear-but-Frank-himself looks. "This is something I have to figure out. Is the hard work something unreasonable or just something the veterans can't handle?" he said.

Kush nodded as if the latter was the answer. He doesn't hit his pro players. "That's because these guys are more mature and I'm not responsible for them like I was the college players."

Instead, he lets the players knock each other senseless.

"With all the hitting of two-a-days, we have beaten each other up in practice," said Glasgow. "We do it every day. In other years, we never beat each other up for so long. At first, there was a lot of grumbling among the veterans. The first questions were, 'How long can it go on and how long will it go on?'

"We are still asking those questions now."

Kush said, "Maybe if we beat the hell out of each other in practice, we'll beat the hell out of the opposition in games."

Tough.

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, often has said, "Discipline is what makes us free." In that case, Frank Kush was emancipated at birth.

He worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania as a youth, then became an all-America defensive guard at Michigan State. This is surprising.

Consider that he weighed 175 pounds.

Then he spent two years (1953-54) in the army, coaching the base team in Georgia. This is not surprising.

Consider his straight-from-the-barracks demeanor.

Thusly raised, Kush is candidate A1 for comparison to other coaching corporals. Art Schlichter, the Colts' rookie quarterback, says Woody Hayes was easier at Ohio State. Zeke Bratkowski, the team's offensive coordinator, says Vince Lombardi was similar at Green Bay.

Above all else, though, Kush says he is most like a rarely mentioned tough guy. His name was Alex Kush and his key attributes were these: Polish immigrant, Pennsylvania miner, father of 15, including the Baltimore Colts' present coach. He died at 52 because his lungs were diseased and as black as the coal he mined. A tough man. A tough life.

"If I didn't do my chores, my father beat the hell out of me. I learned not to make mistakes," said Frank Kush.

His ways and his whims continue to surprise the mediocrity out of the Colts. There is the story about his rounding up several assistants in the offseason to plant shrubs and flowers around the Colts' Owings Mills, Md., facility. Wearing working clothes, Kush mixed with the mulch.

"I learned to drive a tractor," says Gunther Cunningham, the defensive line coach.

There is the story about his surprising Pagel's parents at last year's East-West Shrine game at Stanford by carrying their bags from the hotel lobby all the way to their room.

"He calls himself, 'The world's most expensive bellhop,' " said Pagel.

And there are the stories about his jogging, sometimes up to 10 miles a day. "He notices details now. When he runs through the woods, he notices trees and insects," says Bratkowski, whose son roomed with Rutledge as a player for Kush at Arizona State. "Frank has learned to appreciate details and to understand there are some things you can't control in life."

And the stories about his love of classical music. "It intrigues me how guys like Beethoven and Strauss can make an orchestra work like they do," says Kush. "I'm not a perfectionist, but I like to see perfection."

Even a touch of humor arises when Kush is asked if he plays any musical instrument.

"I play the radio," he says.

Still, he is Frank Kush. He is a man who remembers his roots. His past does not get in the way. It guides the way.

"Eight to 10 years ago, I might have cared what people said about me. Now, I don't give a damn. I will continue to be what Frank Kush has always been. People make a big deal out of Frank Kush. But he is just like any other person. They have so many wrong impressions of me from what they read or hear.

"But the older you get, the more you understand things in life. The Baltimore Colts are just another chapter in my life. It's not the last chapter. It's never the last chapter."

Never?

"The last chapter," said Frank Kush, his seriousness melting to a smile, "is when I become one of those cadavers."