Erk Russell, the “Junkyard Dawg” who built Georgia Southern intoa small college football power, was killed in a car accident earlier today.
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 complete. 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 season.
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 a motivator.”
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