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

Boss Hogg

May 18th, 2009
9:34 pm

Without Erk Russell, GSU would not be the program they are now. They had to go find a football because the school did not even have one at the initial press conference introducing Erk.

rd4440

May 18th, 2009
10:15 pm

Erk should be in the hall of fame, for his time at UGA. He is the one responsible for most of the wins
during the Dooley years. What great guy,motivator coach and friend.

Yamadawg

May 18th, 2009
11:00 pm

Erk Russell left an imprint on players, fans, fellow citizens, the universities, and the game of football itself as he passed through on his journey of life. I was taught that a measure of success is that a person leave the world a little better than they found it. Erk surpassed that by measures. I have come to expect that the intent of a hall of fame would be to recognize individuals that have had a lasting, positive impact on a sport or other specialty, and / or through that sport or specialty had a lasting impact on others. Erk certainly accomplished that. The simple fact is that if they deny Erk’s consideration and ultimate installation in the hall of fame this organization is cheapened as it does not adequately represent its mission.

Dawgnation… GATA!!!

Thank you Erk.

GSU25+yrFan

May 19th, 2009
7:18 am

“Lets here it ONE MORE TIME for the greatest team in America, Georgia Southern Eagles” Erk Russell after winning the 95 National Championship.
There words that will live in GSU history forever.

JumpiNEagles

May 19th, 2009
7:54 am

Coach Russell was the best, he definitely deserves to be in the HOF. A better person than a coach & that is daying a lot.

egeagle

May 19th, 2009
11:04 am

Lots of warped memories for us all.
My first college game was the Ga-Fla game. There’s nothing like it and it needs to stay there. And that’s with Ga being my second favorite behind the Eagles.
GSC/U smashed Marshall in the playoffs one year. I believe their coach was George Chaump. We beat Donnan and Marshall in 90 or 91 under Stowers, and then MU got really good.
I was the first Gus, hence my handle. I even walked behind Coach on that first coach’s show on WJCL back in ‘82.
A note on the Hugo Bowl. Erk said that the team owed us 16000 their maximum effort if we braved a hurricane to see them play. And at that time, MTSU was our biggest rival.
One reason Erk didn’t take the UGA job when Dooley retired was his age. He says in his own book that had he been ten years younger, he’d have taken the job.

Murph

May 19th, 2009
4:57 pm

Thanks for the article – Erk left a great legacy and inspired a lot of runts to try harder and do right. One of them is his grandson, Coach Rooster Russell. GATA !!!

BKing

May 19th, 2009
6:29 pm

Tony,

I am a current student at GSU and I am also one of your brothers. First I would like to thank you for coming back for our 40th year at GSU. As a current student, I was at the football game after Erk passed. I along with the young community who had not witnesses more than the legacy of Erk could feel his overwhelming pressence and we continue to honor his name. Thanks for remembering and belong the community remember a great man. Maybe we can persuade you to join us at future GSU football games.

Thanks,

Benjamin King

Joe Quenga

May 20th, 2009
11:39 pm

GREAT article brother! My sisters, mother, and myself have all attended Georgia Southern either for our bachelors or masters. I can tell you Erk has touched each and everyone of us during our time at Georgia Southern. What is interesting Erk never coached the program during our time at Southern as students. Erk even touches the ROTC program at Southern and our fraternity. One of the best quotes I can take away from Erk that I hope to live by is “DO RIGHT!”

Awesome article Tony!

Will

May 20th, 2009
11:41 pm

Great article Tony! I completely agree with you that Erk should be in the Hall of Fame. He made Georgia Southern and Statesboro what it is today. As a current Delt at Southern I wish I would have had the oppurtunity to meet you this past weekend. Glad you had a great time at the Alumni weekend though!

Coach

May 22nd, 2009
10:40 am

Tony. I am also a football coach and I was fortunate to have known Coach Russell. The man impacted my life greatly. He was one of a kind and when God made him he broke the mold. Thank you for the story

Craig Taylor

May 22nd, 2009
12:32 pm

Tony,

Great article! As one of the “greatest collection of non-athletes ever to step on a football field” 28 years ago at Georgia Southern College, I could not agree with you more.

Does the NFL Hall of Fame have similar requirements? If so, Jim Brown and Gale Sayers wouldn’t be members. Surely, there has to be a waiver policy or a procedure for amending the rules.

With regard to Atlanta Gator’s comments, during Coach Russell’s tenure as Head Football Coach at Georgia Southern College, enrollment more than doubled from around 5,000 to more than 10,000. Georgia Southern gained university status, and now enrollment exceeds that of Georgia Tech. Draw your own conclusion, but even former GSC President Dale Lick attributed these gains to Erk’s Eagles.

Thanks for remembering where you started. Keep up the good work!

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