Originally created 09/09/06

Players saddened by loss of Russell



Frank Ros remembered Erskine "Erk" Russell as more than just a superior football mind.

Mr. Ros, a linebacker and captain of the 1980 national championship Georgia team, said the charismatic, cigar-smoking Mr. Russell was a better human being than he was a coach.

Mr. Russell, the longtime Georgia defensive coordinator and Georgia Southern head coach, died Friday after a car accident. He was 80.

"It's a great loss," Mr. Ros said. "He was a person you wanted to be associated with."

East Georgia Regional Medical Center CEO Bob Bigley said Mr. Russell was brought by ambulance to the hospital and was pronounced dead on arrival at about 9:10 a.m. Mr. Bigley said Mr. Russell's death was "not from injuries" related to the wreck.

"There hasn't been a thorough examination, but the speculation is that he may have had a stroke," he said.

Mr. Russell, who gave his 1975 defense the nickname "Junkyard Dogs," coached 17 years at Georgia. In 1980, his defense allowed only 11.4 points a game as the Bulldogs went undefeated to win the national championship.

After the season, Mr. Russell left to resurrect the football program at Georgia Southern. In eight seasons, he turned the Eagles into a Division I-AA powerhouse, leading them to national titles in 1985, '86 and '89.

"All of us never would have had a chance to play college football if not for coach Russell," said Randy Griffin, a walk-on punter in 1982-83 who lives in Evans. "You expected him to be the meanest guy in the world. He rarely ever raised his voice."

Mr. Russell was a four-sport letterman at Auburn before taking assistant coaching jobs at Auburn and Vanderbilt.

He joined Georgia in 1964 and became known for his motivational techniques.

Mr. Russell was most associated with head-butting defensive players in the shoulder pads. Blood would stream off his bald head.

"You'd run through a wall if he asked you to," Mr. Ros said. "Because you knew he wouldn't steer you wrong."

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.