College football coaching legend Erskine "Erk" Russell is dead -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

College football coaching legend Erskine "Erk" Russell is dead

September 8, 2006

Statesboro -- The former Georgia Southern head coach and University of Georgia assistant coach apparently suffered a stroke while driving his car Friday morning in Statesboro.

Erk Russell was loved by fans at both Georgia Southern and the University of Georgia.    Russell won three national titles in eight seasons at Georgia Southern and a national title at Georgia, where he was Vince Dooley's defensive coordinator for 17 seasons.  

WTOC - Savannah reports that Russell was leaving a gas station near his Statesboro home when his car hit a utility pole. Russell was pronounced dead just after nine this morning at East Georgia Regional Medical Center.  

The hospital's chief executive officer Bob Riley says Russell's death was not from injuries related to the wreck and that the former coach most likely suffered a stroke while driving.  

News of Russell's death rocketed across Georgia. Here in Albany, former Georgia defensive lineman Bill Stanfill says he talked with his former college defensive coach yesterday.  

Stanfill invited Russell to come to Athens next week where Georgia will present him with the original Outland Trophy that Stanfill won in 1968.   "I said 'Erk you are a part of that award as much as I am.  It has got my name on it but it belongs to you too.'"

For 17 years, Erk Russell was Georgia's beloved defensive coordinator. Russell's defenses earned the nickname Junkyard Dogs, because the Bulldog defensive coach took players who looked too small or too slow and made them into champions.

After Georgia's national championship season in 1980, Erk Russell left Athens to revive the football program at Georgia Southern. In eight seasons, Russell won three national titles and 78 percent of his games.

Stanfill says Erk Russell was a great strategist and a great motivator and recalled Russell's trademark pre-game warm ups in Athens. "In pre-game warm-ups for him to get with his defensive line in a circle and get down with that bald head, and each one of us would charge him one at a time and he would head butt us in hardware or the shoulder pads and cut that old bald head and blood would just be pouring down. You know if you couldn't get ready to play football just by watching that sight, you knew something was wrong with you."   

Erk Russell had basically severed ties with Georgia Southern when former head coach Mike Sewak fired Russell's son Rusty as defensive coordinator.  But an GSU athletic spokesman says Russell spoke to the Georgia Southern football team on Thursday, two days before their season opener against Central Connecticut. The first game for new Eagles head coach Brian Van Gorder.

Erk Russell is the last four sports letterman in Auburn University history. Russell is survived by his wife Jean and sons Rusty and Jay. 



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