Erk Russell may be the best football coach that nobody has ever heard of outside of Georgia.
Russell was the Georgia Bulldogs’ Defensive Coordinator for 17 years and he was the creator of the Junkyard Dawg Defense of the mid to late 1970s.
I wrote about their national championship game in the 1976 when they lost to the Pittsburgh Panthers and Tony Dorsett here: Junkyard Dawgs
That 1976 Georgia defense was fun to watch, but by 1980 they had improved by leaps and bounds by adding more size and speed. In 1980, Herschel Walker had joined the team and they finished the
season at 12-0 beating Notre Dame for the national title.
Georgia almost always had a killer defense while Vince Dooley was their coach and that was on his Defensive Coordinator, Erk Russell.
He was one of the best Defensive Coordinators and especially so when he had some talent to work with.
But, even without superb talent, like in 1975, he fielded a really good defense. The original Junkyard Dawg defense had several walk-on players and they were a well coached, disciplined team.
After the 1980 season, Erk Russell pulled what many considered a crazy move and he took the head coaching job at Georgia Southern. The problem with that and what made it interesting was Georgia Southern didn’t have a football team and had not had one in about 40 years.
Russell took on the task of starting the football program from scratch.
The amazing thing about Erk Russell and Georgia Southern is that in spite of not having a football program and him being involved with the building of a Division 1-AA program is that they won the national championship in his second season of fielding a team.
That is simply amazing, to say the least.
He retired after the 1989 football season.
Erk Russell passed away in 2006 at the age of 80. He suffered a stroke while driving.
It would have been nice if some Division 1 program had given Erk Russell a shot. But, even though he never got it, he should still be considered one of the best all time coaches for his work not only as a Defensive Coordinator, but also as the head guy of a start up Division 1-AA program.