Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

This day – Memorial Day is a time for remembrance. It is a day to reflect back on the greatness of men who have fallen. It is about honoring the foot soldiers, who advanced the cause. When connecting this day with college football, Pat Tillman the war hero and former Arizona State Sun Devil are justifiably inseparable. On Friday afternoon it was announced that Tillman would headline this year’s class going into the College Football Hall of Fame (CFHOF); however, there is one name, a warrior as well, was left out of the parade – Erk Russell.

Nothing seems to bury a story than releasing it on a Friday afternoon. Do it on a three day holiday – it really gets dug a grave. Do it the first weekend of summer – it is deep six. Yet, the CFHOF did exactly that when it announce the next class of inductees. Even more impertinent, Coach Russell’s name did not appear, again.

Something is outrageously wrong with the process. A year ago, Jim Donnan had his induction to the College Football HOF. His accomplishments are well noted: Asst @ OU under Barry Switzer for 5 yrs, winning a NC @ Marshall, later coaching UGA and having a overall record of 104 – 40 (.722), as head coach. Stellar accomplishments in his own right but make no mistake he went in based on his record at the D1-AA level. Now compare that record against Erk Russell. 17 years as an Asst. @ UGA, he created a stingy defense. In 192 games he had 27 shutouts, kept opponents to less than (17) 135 times, and only 18 times had 28 or more points scored on him (that’s a quarter in the Big 12). He revived a dormant program at GA SO. At first they were a club team, then D-II, then D1-AA (FCS). After he moved up to D1-AA, he had a .825 winning percentage (70-14), winning 3 – not just 1 – National Championships. A year after he retired, Mike Sewak (now OL coach @ GT), won another NC – with his players. Overall, he was 83-22-1 (.788) which trumps the ex-Thundering Terd Herd coach. Coach Russell was named Coach of the DECADE in 1989 by USA Today, for the 4 National Titles he help deliver (’80 UGA & ’85,’86, ’89 GA SO).

This year Barry Alvarez and Gene Stallings were selected as the Head Coaches to go in. Again their total accomplishments while notable are in sum less than what Erk Russell did – longest tenured HC at Wisconsin with back to back Rose Bowl victories in the late ‘90 and a Junction City Boy after a brief stint – a 6 year run - led Alabama to winning 1 national title. Again Erk Russell’s .788 winning percentage easily out distances their respective winning percentages of .605 and .556 and a four to one ratio set the pace for national titles.

The CFHOF used to have a criteria that coach must have 100 or more victories to be considered, thus Erk Russell is ineligible to enter in as HC; there was no provision made for assistant coaches to enter. With the selection of Gene Stallings that ceiling has been broken, who only had 89 total victories (and a loosing record at TAMU). Coach Russell could coach circles around Donnan, Alvarez, and Stallings – give each of them a clinic.  IF the CFHOF is supposed to represent greatness- not just longevity, nor brief spurts of excellence; then Coach Russell should have been at the head table, ahead of the line. A highway named after him that runs thru Hopeulikit, GA is nice, but Coach Russell is more fitting for enshrinement. Posthumously, there ought to be another victory cigar lit in South Bend.

Well maybe after the CFHOF gets moved to Atlanta, we can finally lay to rest this story – with the honor its’ owed…. GATA RIP

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