STATESBORO, Ga. -- Erk Russell, who led Georgia's "Junkyard
Dawg" defense under Vince Dooley and then built a small-college
powerhouse of his own at Georgia Southern, died Friday after a car accident. He was 80.
Russell was brought by ambulance to a hospital and pronounced
dead on arrival, East Georgia Regional Medical Center chief
executive Bob Bigley said. Bigley said Russell's death was not from
injuries related to the wreck, adding the examination is not
Russell was driving near his Statesboro home in the morning when
his sport utility vehicle swerved off the road and struck a light
pole, Georgia State Patrol Cpl. Chris Lacienski said. However, he
described the crash as minor.
Russell coached on Dooley's staff for 17 years and came to
prominence as his defensive coordinator. He left the Bulldogs after
their 1980 national championship to build Georgia Southern's first
football team since 1941. He won Division I-AA championships in
1985, '86 and '89.
"I tried to get him to stay, but it was the right decision for
him," Dooley said in 1989. "He has a charm about him that makes
people really love him. But at the same time, he knows the game. He
knows what it takes to win."
Russell, his bald head his trademark, was the inspiration for
the Georgia defense that helped the Bulldogs capture the national
championship and the first of three straight SEC titles with a 12-0
He compiled a record of 83-22-1 in eight seasons as the Eagles
coach. He was a three-time I-AA national coach of the year and his
final team went 15-0.
"If I was picking a list of top 10 coaches that I have ever met
and wanted to play for, Erk Russell would be on that list,"
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden once said. "He is unsurpassed as
Russell retired after winning his last title, but remained close
to the school until a falling-out with former coach Mike Sewak two
years ago. Russell cut all ties to Georgia Southern after his son,
Rusty, was fired as the defensive coordinator.
Sewak was dismissed after last season, and Russell again became
a presence on the Georgia Southern campus with the encouragement of
new coach Brian VanGorder, another former defensive coordinator at
Russell had some health problems and several operations in the
past year but he seemed to be recovering, said Holmes Ramsey, a
friend and longtime Southern booster.
Russell spoke to the team Thursday, school spokesman Patrick
Osterman said. The Eagles open their season Saturday night against