Sept. 8, 2006
Auburn, Ala. - Erk Russell, Auburn's last four-sport letterman, died Friday morning in Statesboro, Ga. He was 80.
Russell, a native of Birmingham, Ala., earned 10 varsity letters at Auburn from 1946-49, starring as a two-way end on the football team for four years, while also competing for the basketball, baseball and tennis teams. He holds both bachelor's and master's degrees from Auburn.
"We are very saddened by the passing of Erk Russell," said Auburn Athletics Director Jay Jacobs. "He will always hold a special place in Auburn history as its last four-sport letterman. Earning 10 varsity letters has stood the test of time and is truly remarkable."
Russell returned to Auburn to serve as an assistant football coach from 1958-62. He later rose to prominence during his 17-year stint as defensive coordinator at Georgia from 1964-80, helping lead the Bulldogs to the 1980 National Championship.
"As a coach, he was a great motivator," said Auburn offensive line coach Hugh Nall, who played for Russell at Georgia from 1977-80. "He came up with the concept of keeping it simple. That was his approach. He was hard-core. He coached hard, but he cared about his players."
In 1981, Russell was hired as the head coach at Georgia Southern, where he compiled a record of 83-22-1 in eight seasons as the Eagles coach and won Division I-AA championships in 1985, '86 and '89. He was a three-time I-AA National Coach of the Year and his final team went 15-0.
Among his many honors, Russell was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
"The biggest thing people don't realize about Coach Russell is what a classy person he was," said Nall. "He was a gentleman. He always talked about the Auburn Creed, and was truly an Auburn man. He was a class act."
Born July 23, 1926, Russell is survived by his wife, the former Jean Farmer of Birmingham, and sons, Rusty and Jay.
Memorial services for Russell will be held Sunday at 1 p.m. CT in the Georgia Southern football stadium. After the service, people can meet with the family at the Gene Bishop Field House next to the stadium.