Posted: Wednesday, February 18th 2004 at 6:20am
Erk cuts ties to GSU after son's firing
STATESBORO - Erk Russell, who built Georgia Southern into a Division I-AA football power, cut ties to the school over the firing of his son.
Russell, 77, retired in 1989 but remained a fund-raiser and prominent symbol of the Eagles program. He was miffed by the dismissal of his son, defensive coordinator Rusty Russell, last month.
Erk Russell insisted he was angry not because his son was fired, but because of the way Georgia Southern handled it.
``If Rusty has gotten fired because he was a sorry coach or did something irresponsible, then I'm the first one that will tell you that the head coach has the authority and the responsibility to do what he thinks should be done,'' Erk Russell said. ``That is not what this is about.''
Rusty Russell was fired after a 7-4 season in which the Eagles' defense allowed 21 points per game and gave up fourth-quarter leads in three of its losses.
His father was upset that head coach Mike Sewak said he talked with Erk Russell about the firing, making it sound as though he knew it would happen. In fact, Russell said, the meeting with Sewak came at his insistence and only after his son was told his fate.
``It read as if we had met on the matter, discussed it, and that's the way it came out,'' Erk Russell said. ``But that's not the way it was.''
Erk Russell says he doesn't know if he'll ever attend another Georgia Southern football game or any school function with his former players.
``At this point, I'll never say never,'' Russell said. ``I'm not really thinking about things like that. I'm just trying to shake this. When the time comes, we'll see what happens.''
Sewak and Georgia Southern athletics director Sam Baker issued statements on Russell's decision but wouldn't comment further, school spokesman Tom McClellan said.
``I have the utmost respect for coach Erk Russell, but I support our head coaches' prerogative to make difficult decisions regarding their program,'' Baker said.
Sewak worked two seasons as an assistant to Erk Russell in the mid-1980s, and Sewak and Rusty Russell were the top candidates for the head coaching job at Georgia Southern when Paul Johnson went to Navy after the 2001 season. Sewak, the offensive coordinator, got the job.
``I feel for the position coach .125Erk.375 Russell is in,'' Sewak said in his statement.
Erk Russell, who came to prominence during 17 years as Georgia's baldheaded defensive coordinator, moved to Georgia Southern when the school launched its football program. He won Division I-AA championships in 1985, '86 and '89.
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