Community members present bronze bust of Coach Erk Russell
In a ceremony Thursday afternoon, community members presented Georgia Southern University with a bronze bust cast in the likeness of legendary coach Erskine ‘Erk” Russell. Longtime friends of Coach Russell dedicated the bust with comments on his extraordinary coaching career and personal attributes. Russell, who coached the Eagles to three national championships, including a perfect 15-0 season in 1989, was the key figure in reviving a sport that had been discontinued on campus during World War II. Russell passed away last September at the age of 80.
‘On behalf of Georgia Southern University, our football program and our Eagle fans, I would like to express our deep appreciation for this gift,” said President Bruce Grube. ‘Coach Russell united the people of this community and exhibited qualities in his life and profession that served as an example to all. The presence of his likeness at Paulson Stadium honors his legacy.”
The sculpture was commissioned by local businessmen, the Eagle players association and community members who appreciated Russell’s tenacity on the football field and admired his passion for life. Funding was provided by Park Avenue Bank and the Eagle Football Players Association. Georgia Southern art professor emeritus Pat Steadman created the sculpture, using hundreds of photographs of Russell from personal collections and archives.
‘We wanted to ensure that Coach Russell’s legacy would forever remain linked to football Saturdays and we presented this beautiful gift to Georgia Southern as a fitting tribute to the man and legend known to all of us simply as Erk,” said Bill Olliff, committee chair for the project. ‘This will link his traditions to all Eagles, past, present and future, and make sure Georgia Southern fans experience Erk’s legacy as part of the game day experience for years to come.”
Family and friends gathered for the presentation of the sculpture at Paulson Stadium, honoring the man who inspired and touched thousands with his humor and no-nonsense approach. Russell, who earned numerous coaching accolades during his eight-year career, including USA Today’s Coach of the Decade for the 1980s, posted an 83-22-1 record for a winning percentage of .788. After being named head coach of the Eagles in 1981, Russell fielded a team comprised entirely of walk-on players in 1982. Within three years, Russell would lead Georgia Southern to an improbable national championship in 1985 and a repeat title in 1986, the first back-to-back championships in I-AA. He finished his career riding on the shoulders of his players after the 1989 championship and undefeated, untied season.
The first of two special presentations, the bust will be unveiled to the public in a ceremony prior to the team taking the field for this Saturday’s game against West Georgia. At the start of halftime, Georgia Southern has planned a second announcement and presentation to pay tribute to Coach Russell.