Why Erk should be in the Hall of Fame

 

 

Statesboro, Ga.—Every time I come here, which is not nearly often enough, you not only see his presence, but you FEEL it as well.

The spirit of Erk Russell is everywhere.

When you’re having breakfast at Snooky’s, where he used to meet with his buddies for coffee every morning, Erk is there.

When you look across the street from Snooky’s at the modern practice facility that runs across Beautiful Eagle Creek, Erk is there.

When you look at a Georgia Southern campus, which had about 6,000 students before he rebuilt the football program in 1981, and now is bursting with almost 18,000, Erk is there.

Every bank, every restaurant, every dry cleaner, every gas station, and every beauty parlor in Bulloch County has some kind of memorial to the man who built a football program that won three Division I-AA national championships and set the table for other coaches, including Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, to win several more.

Trust me when I tell you that with the possible exception of Paul “Bear” Bryant in Tuscaloosa, no college campus in America still feels a stronger presence of one man than that of Erk Russell in Statesboro. And this is 20 years after he coached his last game which, of course, ended with a national championship.

I was here over the weekend for a reunion with a large group of (Delta Tau Delta) fraternity  brothers, many  of whom were here before Erk turned Statesboro into a college football destination. (FYI:  I began my long and undistinguished academic career at Georgia Southern before transferring to Journalism School at Georgia. I had this silly notion that I wanted to be a sportswriter).

And before I got the bags out of the car I was hit with the question: Why isn’t Erk Russell in the College Football Hall of Fame?

Tim Tucker dealt with this in his blog last week because he started getting the same feedback. As Tim correctly pointed out, the Hall says that someone must be a head coach 10 years to be eligible. I respect that.

I also know that maybe once in a lifetime, twice if you’re lucky, an individual comes along who is so extraordinary that he falls outside of the rules. Erk retired after a perfect 15-0 season in 1989, his eighth, and could have easily kept going and won a couple more national championships. He decided to step away while he was on top and turn over this gold-plated college football franchise to somebody else. That is so typical of Coach Russell.

But the reason Erk Russell should be in the Hall of Fame has nothing to do with how much hardware he put in the trophy case or how many games he won. It has everything to do with the lives he touched and with the legacy that he built here that is stronger than ever.

“Coach Russell is certainly a Hall of Famer to me,” current Georgia Southern Chris Hatcher told me when we visited Sunday morning. “All of us who have followed him have benefitted by what he built here. We know he was a great coach, but he was an even better man. That is the first thing you learn when you come here. We are all standing on his shoulders.”

There are a million Erk stories but I’ll leave you with one. Mac McWhorter played offensive guard for Georgia in the early 70s, when Coach Russell was Vince Dooley’s defensive coordinator (1964-80). When McWhorter’s playing days were over his parents received a hand-written note from Coach Russell telling them how much he enjoyed being around their son.

“Coach Russell didn’t even coach me but he took the time write my parents,” said McWhorter, now the offensive line coach at Texas. “That letter still hangs on the wall at their home.”

Last week the Hall of Fame announced its divisional class, which honors players and coaches from Division I-AA, II and III. Jim Donnan, who took Marshall to four I-AA national championship games (winning in 1992) and later was the head coach at Georgia for five seasons, was named to the Hall of Fame. He should be there.

But that announcement was also a memory-jogger, which is something we all need from time to time. And coming here this weekend to be with my fraternity brothers brought back so many memories of Erk and what an extraordinary thing he did here some 28 years ago. I have been around a lot of football coaches, but I have never met one who was more universally loved and  respected. Simply put, he was the best motivator of human beings that I have ever seen.

Erk Russell, the coach and, more importantly, Erk Russell the man, should be in the College Football Hall of Fame.

 

 

 

 

114 comments Add your comment

TIde rising

May 18th, 2009
12:32 pm

G8r Grad,

To tell you the truth most of us have forgotten about the old 50/50 split at Legion Field. Legion Field after the series ended is now in some disrepair and is considered a dump by most people. A sad ending to a legendary stadium although UAB still plays there.

Its not just the UGA-UF game that people are talking about moving around. The great OU-Texas rivalry is also in jeopardy. OU fans are tired of the longer drive for them and are also a little tired of the fact that the game is played in the state of Texas every year. Probably the only reason the series is still alive at the Cotton Bowl is because of the improvements the Cotton Bowl committed to and the fact that OU has dominated the series since Stoops has been there. I think Mack Brown has beaten Stoops only 2 or 3 times. I don’t know exactly but I do know OU has been dominant over UT since Stoops has been there. If Texas gets a dominant run in the series then I think the OU complaining will surely put an end to the series in a supposedly neutral Cotton Bowl setting.

Last, I’m not certain but I think its a money issue also. I’ve read that if teams go to a home and home format that its more profitable for each program. I don’t know why that would be that’s what I’ve heard or read. Anybody heard anything about if that’s true or not?

Erk to the hall ....

May 18th, 2009
1:03 pm

I never met the man, but I’ll have to go with so many quotes from people who knew or played for Erk; he’s hall of fame in my book.

I’m a GT fan, and I read somewhere that Erk was skeptical at letting Paul Johnson install his offense at GA Southern in 1985 (after moving PJ from D-line coach following the 1984 season). Looks like it worked out pretty well.

I’d also like to thank Vince Dooley … if he had left GA it was going to be Erk that got the job, and CPJ would have been hired from the U of Hawaii to run his offense again. My Jackets dodged a bullet there!

Yeah, Erk is H-O-F worhty. Kinda stinks about the 10 year rule though.

Zombie Erk Russell

May 18th, 2009
1:18 pm

I remember when the Georgia Auburn game was played in Columbus at Memorial Stadium. The game got too big for the stadium and it moved to home and home. But I’m sure people were making the same arguments then.

Mac

May 18th, 2009
1:21 pm

I love Mark Richt, but he is a baby about this Jacksonville thing. G8R Grad has it nailed when he writest hat Jacksonville is as much South Georgia as it is North Florida. The drive vs. fly comparison is bogus. Bus vs. jet, only the miles are different, give the comfort level to the plane. “It’s cooler for them?” Are you kidding me? Leave the game alone. Seventy-plus years of tradition is worth keeping.

Denver Dog

May 18th, 2009
1:23 pm

For those of us that loved UGA football, SEC football, and college football in general, ERK was the poster man for that. The team which he “made” out of smaller, slower, but big hearted individuals are legendary.

I do have a personal story. As I was a senior at UGA in 1973, I worked 2 jobs and went to school. My night job was as a clerk at Classic Beverage. Every night, after workouts etc, Erk Russell would come in and buy a quart of Miller High Life, and chat for a while, and then leave. He knew some of my relatives, particularly my father of whom he knew through atletics somehow. He always spoke about how good life was and how great it was to be at a great place like UGA.

My recollection is that we all wanted him to be the head coach after 1980 when Vince was flirting with Auburn. Whether or not that would have happened we will never know. I will remember him always standing in the endzone before the games butting heads with players. We should remember him as a true hall of famer. GATA

Bill B Bates

May 18th, 2009
1:26 pm

It’s impossible to overstate the influence that Coach Russell continues to exert on Statesboro, Georgia Southern and South Georgia. He inspired not only his players but everyone that came in contact with him. There will never be another Erskine Russell. Thanks Coach for all the life lessons.

Atlanta Gator

May 18th, 2009
1:33 pm

Three topics, three comments—-

1. Erk Russell deserves to be in the College Football Hall of Fame. That Jim Donnan can be admitted with his combined record at Marshall and UGA, but Erk Russell cannot because he was two seasons shy as a head coach makes little or no sense. Rules exist for a purpose, and when a rule is mindlessly enforced without regard to the rule’s purpose, it can often lead to an injustice. Such is the case here.

2. Florida-Georgia Game in Jacksonville. I have voiced my opinion in the AJC blog debates on this topic in past, and I won’t belabor the point today. When the present contract expires, UGA’s president, athletic director and head coach are entitled to play UGA’s series home games wherever they want—-Jacksonville, Athens or Atlanta. I have no problem with a rotating Atlanta-Jacksonville series, but I believe that many UGA alumni don’t like the idea, especially the South Georgia Dawgs. If UGA moves its home games to Athens, let’s recognize that we will be destroying a very special 75-year tradition because Florida has had better teams and coaches for the last 19 seasons. Florida has discussed keeping its home games in Jacksonville regardless, but it’s an unspoken certainty that there will not be a 50-50 split of tickets if UGA does not reciprocate. Sad day for all if it happens.

3. Spurrier vs. Meyer? Why must we always anoint someone as the “greatest?” Spurrier was Florida’s first Heisman winner, and his teams won the Gators’ first SEC and MNC championships. Meyer’s teams have had greater success in winning BCS championships, in a much shorter period of time. Spurrier’s teams won 6 SEC championships; Meyer’s teams have won 2. Which coach is better? Dumb question. Without the Ol’ Ball Coach turning the corner at Florida, there is no Urban Meyer at Florida, no second and third MNC, and the program would still be mired in mediocrity. I say to young and old Gators alike, appreciate the two men for what they are—-two very special college football coaches. If I might engage in some Tony Barnhart-like hyperbole, stating Meyer is a better coach like arguing that Lincoln was a greater president than Washington. But for Washington, there would have been no Lincoln.

Scott

May 18th, 2009
1:34 pm

I always think of Erk waring that same old raggedy, full of holes T-shirt that he wore for good luck, one of my favorite memories of Coach Russell.

Remember Tracy Ham & the Ham-Bone? Man they were fun to watch.

ugablows

May 18th, 2009
1:39 pm

i hate georgie with every cell in my body buty i respect the hell out of Coach Erk Russell

Knuckle Sandwich

May 18th, 2009
1:49 pm

GEORGIA SOUTHERN! EAGLES! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

oldbird

May 18th, 2009
1:59 pm

I remember a line by the late great Lewis Grizzard in a column about why UGA should hire Coach Russell after Dooley’s retirement. “The man can inspire mud.” I think that sums him up. I was at UGA from 83 – 86 and you could definitely see the let down in intensity then even as now of our defensive mentality. We have occasional years or half years of inspired play, i.e. 2007, but when Erk was here, that was the norm. Coach Dooley won a lot of low scoring games during his tenure and his 6 SEC titles, and I’ll guarantee you that Erk Russell is a hall of famer in his book. I say change the rules or make an exception.

[...] if, what if… Jump to Comments Tony Barnhart’s tribute to Erk in today’s AJ-C as well as Rex Robinson’s post about his recruitment by Erk lead me to [...]

jumbo

May 18th, 2009
2:07 pm

Tide rising,

You mentioned the OU-Texas game. Do you know if they will continue to play it in the old Cotton Bowl after this season? I’m just curious as the current Cotton Bowl moves to Cowboys Stadium next January and it will seat 100K much larger than the current venue.

I know OU is playing BYU at the new stadium in September and runors are that LSU is trying to schedule a game there too in the near future.

Geaux Tigers
Go SEC

Saint Nick

May 18th, 2009
2:18 pm

Legion field is a dump!!!!!

SEC Fan

May 18th, 2009
2:22 pm

Saint Nick and Tide rising

What do you guys make of Paul Finebaum’s report that his source states that 2009 will be Saban’s last season at Bama?

Otto

May 18th, 2009
2:29 pm

This post maybe a double as it did not show up after refreshing several time.

I have not heard much out of the RRS lately. Texas and OU agreed to extend the contract in the Old Cotton Bowl through 2015 in 2007. The Cotton Bowl was not up to date and both School’s Stadium had grown to seat more than the Cotton. The Cotton agree to expand seating from 76k to 92k as well as a new scoreboard and media area.

OU won 5 in a row with 2 blow outs from 2000 to 2004. Texas has won 3 of the last 4. Norman Ok is 189miles from Dallas and Austin is 197miles.

I agree with G8R Grad and Mac, keep the game in Jax.

Dooley owes as much to Erk’s defense for the ‘80 title as he does Herschel. Erk was a player’s favorite and his record at Ga. Southern speaks for itself. Pul the man in the Hall of Fame.

Saint Nick

May 18th, 2009
2:40 pm

SEC FAN,

I went to his website and it says nothing about that!!!!

Got 12?

May 18th, 2009
2:50 pm

Saint Nick,

Of course, the site says nothing of the like. When you tune in to the Finebaum show in 10 minutes, it will probably be addressed as a rumor.

Remember Nick, the guy who was friends with one of the Sabans, who claimed that Izzo would be the next Tide basketball coach!

Good ole misinformation!

Grammar police

May 18th, 2009
2:50 pm

SEC Fan,

I just don’t put any stock into anything Finebaum says, especially a rumor about Saban leaving. They’ve been saying that since day 1. For a guy that people think is leaving his actions sure seem a lot different. He committed a million or 2 to the school to be taken out of his pay over a 10 year time frame, he’s out recruiting aggessively like there is no tomorrow, and last of course is who would take him? The nfl is out of the question and as far as college goes there is no other big name college out there that a) has a job opening or looks like they will have a job opening next year and 2) none of them will be able to pay the kind of $ that Alabama is willing to pay. 3) Saban is in his late 50s. He’s already said this is his last stop and then he is retiring.

Another reason he wants to stay at Bama is that his retirement home is at a lake here in Georgia. If he took a job at say ND or somewhwere across the country it would be one helluva commute to get to his vacation home. In any event I just wanted 3 to 5 years from him. As long as he stuffs the cupboard with top shelf recruiting talent which he has done then I’m fine if he did leave. As far as another big time program goes there is no one out there with the remote possibility of ND that has the prestige of an Alabama that will be looking for a coach. USC, OHIO St, MICH, OU, Texas, even ND is expected to have a good year this year. None of those programs will be firing their coach this year or in the foreseeable future. And he can’t take a job in the immediate southeast either like FSU or Miami or Clemson so where could he go?

GSU FAN

May 18th, 2009
2:58 pm

GATA EAGLES!

Tide rising

May 18th, 2009
2:59 pm

They’ve been saying Saban is leaving forever. His actions say otherwise as the post above states. Besides, where could he go? I mean really? Who would take him if he only stayed at Bama for 3 years and jumped again and who could pay that kinda money?

Otto, Thanks for the info. I forgot about them looking at the new Cowboys stadium for OU-UT. Hopefully that will keep that rivalry alive as a premier neutral field event.

I just can’t see much use for the Cotton Bowl anymore. I don’t even know if anyone plays there. Does SMU play there or at an on campus stadium? I would hope they wouldn’t just let the facility decay and go the way of Legion Field but that may be its future.

Spike

May 18th, 2009
3:14 pm

Nice articel, Tony. Erk was a legend in my days at UGA. I met him once at the old athletic offices in the Coloseium. He had the firmest handshake I’ve ever felt. Who else but Erk Russell could coin the nickname “Junkyard Dogs”? To bad he did not coach after Dooley left. Who knows what might have been.

G8R GRAD

May 18th, 2009
3:28 pm

I know, I know, Legion Field is in a bad neighborhood – always has been, but the electricity of that rivalry in Birmingham every year.
Whew!
That was a riot!
They’d come out of the woodwork for that one!
Best people watching ever!
And rabid, delerious fans?
Fuh-get-about-it!
Too much fun.

G8R GRAD

May 18th, 2009
3:30 pm

Sorry: “delIrious”
I need spell-check

G8R GRAD

May 18th, 2009
3:31 pm

Jeez: a capital “I” looks like a lower-case “l” when submitted.

Mac

May 18th, 2009
3:39 pm

I know it’s ancient history now, but I’m one who loved the Iron Bowl at Legion Field. It didn’t have to become a dump, and, as far as the neighborhood goes, well, the fans weren’t moving it for God’s sake.

Mac

May 18th, 2009
3:41 pm

moving IN should have been

To further clarify, if I’m going to a football game with a jillion cops and fans around, the neighborhood doesn’t scare me.

Grammar police

May 18th, 2009
3:43 pm

G8R GRAD,

Watch out! I’m watching you with the delirious stuff and all! I was justa waitin to pounce before you self corrected. Jest kiddin of course. Rols Tide

G8R GRAD

May 18th, 2009
3:50 pm

Thanks GP.
I appreciate the warning.
I know you’re just doing your job.

shane#1

May 18th, 2009
3:56 pm

Like many that have posted on this blog I have often thought about how football history would have been different if Erk had taken over after Dooley. The University wanted to go in another direction with a young coach. It took a decade and the firing of two coaches before the Dogs became a contender for the SEC title once more. Are You listening Vols? As for moving the WLOCP, I can’t see where either program gains anything. Why change something unique into another home and home? The Georgia Dome is too small, even the Falcons want to ditch the Dome! Just leave the game in Jax.

Dave In Tampa

May 18th, 2009
3:59 pm

Erk being in the Hall is a No Brainer!!!!

Anonymous

May 18th, 2009
4:04 pm

Hey Dave In Tampa,

Don’t you mean, “Zombie Erk Russell in the Hall is a No Brainer?”

G8R GRAD

May 18th, 2009
4:09 pm

Grammer Police:

You got any bullets in that pistol, or are you a Barney Fife?

G8R GRAD

May 18th, 2009
4:15 pm

Sorry, again, GP (GrammAr P)

G8R GRAD

May 18th, 2009
4:16 pm

Big weekend.

Dave In Tampa

May 18th, 2009
4:24 pm

Anonymous – Good one!

Got 12?

May 18th, 2009
4:41 pm

I just heard this one on Finebaum:

Tomorrow has been declared “Gene Chizik Day.” Tomorrow’s date is 5-19.

Anonymous

May 18th, 2009
5:07 pm

Speaking of 5-19, I wonder if Rational Citizen’s birthday is on 4-20?

GT

May 18th, 2009
6:06 pm

Erk Russell, the coach is maybe the most felt individual in this state for college football and his tremor continues at Georgia Tech 20 years after his death. Had Russell left Georgia and gone on to coach for another school earlier and not been so faithful he would be in the front row of the hall today and Tech might have won a few more games against Georgia. Seldom will you find an entire state in the college football belt of the south so united behind the legacy of one coach. I bleed gold and white but I knew when I saw the junk yard dawgs I was watching something special and when this old man went down to Georgia Southern and put a team together with Tracy Ham, it was pure magic, maybe the kind of magic only witnessed around the Bear. As a kid I remember playing tennis at Bitsy Grant. Erk was the coach at Grady High School which won the state championship under him. He would come over to Bitsy and play tennis looking like a professional wrestler and match wits with Bobby Dodd among others who hung out there. He would never be remembered for his tennis but if a movie could be made of those guys plus Bitsy and a few others giving it to each other on the tennis court it would have made a fantastic movie. You had Lewis Grizzard, Sam Massell, Andrew Young running around the place, but one of the main guys was a high school football coach that could match wits with any of them. If anything that hall would be too small for him, unlike some in it, he would be helping it out more than it would be needed by him. Not too many like that.

Tide rising

May 18th, 2009
6:47 pm

Fellow Tide fans,

I find it hard to make fun of Gene Chizik’s 5-19 record as a head coach. Aren’t we forgetting after all that he did beat football juggernauts North Dakota State and also Kent State for his 2 wins in 2008?
Rolls Tide!

Gator Growl

May 18th, 2009
6:47 pm

Did we already miss Lane Kiffin day??? Yep, I think we did…It was April 1st!!!

FL DAWG

May 18th, 2009
7:08 pm

Erk is HOF material without a doubt. As a GSU/UGA student I remember Erk beating Marshal in 89 at the Hurricane bowl as Hugo made landfall in Charleston on a Thursday night ESPN game. If memory servew me correctly, the Thundering Herds head coach was none other than Jim Donnan. Erk was a great coach and deserves to be in the HOF.

Tide rising

May 18th, 2009
7:14 pm

Gator Growl,

Seriously, what was Lane Kiffin’s record? Obviously it was bad and he had something similar to Cheezik in 2 years. It would have been something like 4-16 I think or 5-15. I don’t know except that it was bad.

SC Rules!!!

May 18th, 2009
7:17 pm

shane#1,

How goes it old friend? Long time since I’ve chimed in. (After the Rose Bowl) I agree that the WLOCP should stay put. As for the OU/TX Red River Shootout, well at some point in the not to disant they will be moving to the new TX Stadium. It’s too bad that Legion Field will eventually fall to the wrecking ball, then again it looks like it already has sad to say. Loved watching the Iron Bowl with Keith Jackson calling the game!! Then again with the $$$$ mess we’re in out here we might have the sell the Trojans home to pay the debt down. (What a joke!) BTB we’re OK around here, no real damage just a good story for the news folks on a slow night. 4.7 merely moves the dinner table around abit. Well take care my friend, I’ll be out to the ATL in July on business, lookin forward to a plate of Mary Mac’s chicken again!!!

SC Rules!!!

May 18th, 2009
7:28 pm

shane#1,

I forgot to ask, how is the O-line lookin? I know y’all had a rash of injuries in that area, we’re lookin stout! The anchor (O’Dowd) will be fine after off season shoulder surgery and we get all starters back to plow the road for our stable of T-backs to run free. It will be interesting to track how Staff & Sanchez’s careers go. Certainly this first year won’t be a fair comparison as Sanchez certainly has a better surrounding cast, but years 3-5 will tell the story. How is the QB situation shaping up down between the hedges? We’ll be in good shape, Corp is slated to start but the Freshman phenom will not be long from taking over I think, he looked real good in spring practice. If Arron has a bad game or at the very least just gets by the shrubs it won’t take Coach Carroll long to make the switch. Later!

Scott

May 18th, 2009
7:28 pm

Sorry, FL Dawg, your memory is a little foggy. That game you speak of in ‘89 (Hugo Bowl) was against Middle Tennessee State, not Marshall.

Ted Striker

May 18th, 2009
7:48 pm

Tony Barnhart: Amen, brother, amen!

Saint Nick

May 18th, 2009
8:05 pm

Lane sent his kicker out to kick a 70 yard FG into the wind!!!(don’t remember the exact distance) That is what kind of moron this guy is!!!!

FL DAWG

May 18th, 2009
8:24 pm

Scott, I stand corrected it has only been approximately 20 years and a few…dang, can’t remember a few what. The memory is the first to go.

ga_tech_92@yahoo.com

May 18th, 2009
8:24 pm

R.I.P. Erk, you were the man!