Our Georgia History

Erk Russell
September 8, 2006 Coaching legend Erk Russell dies from a stroke or heart attack while driving his truck in Statesboro.
  Erk Russell

Former Georgia Southern coach and former Georgia assistant coach Erk Russell died Friday morning in Statesboro from a stroke while driving his truck. Russell was pronounced dead on arrival at 9:10 a.m at East Georgia Regional Medical Center, but did not die as a result of the injuries sustained in a single-vehicle wreck occurred about 8:45 a.m. on Brannon Road near Cypress Lake Road in Bulloch County. Russell's Chevrolet Blazer ran off the road and struck a utility pole. Russell was alone in the vehicle.

Russell coached the University of Georgia Bulldogs defense from 1964 to 1980 that led the SEC in fewest points allowed in 1967, 1968 and 1976 and led the nation in shutouts in 1971 while playing his split 60 scheme. He coached eight All-Americans, but his true talent was in squeezing amazing plays out of linemen who would never make the pros.

Erk came up with the moniker "Junkyard Dogs" for his defensive line in 1975 and on the first day of training he would explain the role of the animal. Erk Russell's traditional head butt with his Junkyard Dog defense left him with a bloodied forehead at a 1979 game. He was as good a defensive coordinator as college football had ever seen, but an hour before each Georgia football game he became a cheerleader, rousing his starters and substitues to a fever pitch.

After he left Georgia, Russell led Georgia Southern to Division I-AA national titles in 1985, 1986 and 1989 as his legend grew. Erk severed his ties with Georgia Southern after his son Rusty Russell was fired from his position as Georgia Southern's defensive coordinator. Recently, though, he was welcomed by new Eagles coach Brian VanGorder, himself a former defensive coordinator for Georgia.

And in what can only be described as ironic, Russell addressed the Georgia Southern Eagles for 30 minutes a day earlier as they prepared to open their 2006 season.

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