The Obit For Jack Russell

Russell was a natural at coaching baseball, basketball

The Jackson Sun

November 25, 2007

Jack Russell was among the first college coaches I met when my career began with The Jackson Sun more than 33 years ago.

He died Tuesday at age 90 after a long illness and was buried Saturday.

For many moons we have missed his charm, classic tales and warm smile. His passing gives us cause to remember some good times and a man who loved coaching almost as much as he loved his family.

Baseball was his favorite, and he knew how to survive on cold days in early March when north winds cut through the dugouts and left players numb.
One of my vivid memories is seeing Russell standing in the third-base coach's box at Lambuth, wrapped in a black trench coat and winter hat. He would build a fire in a barrel and warm himself between innings, all the time cracking jokes or riding the umpire.

"A lot of people accused me of just coaching basketball until it was warm enough to go play baseball," Russell once said with a laugh. "But I enjoyed basketball. Really."

He was good at coaching both sports and is among an elite group of coaches who have won 400 games in both baseball and basketball. In the college ranks, he had 897 total victories in the two sports.

A native of Cleveland, Ga., he was a standout catcher in high school and college and played minor league baseball until he joined the Navy in 1942. He got his start in coaching at a high school in Beauford, S.C.

"I was still in the service when a school official came to us and wanted to know if anybody was interested in coaching their high school basketball team," Russell said in 1992 prior to his induction into the Jackson-Madison County Sports Hall of Fame. "I had a lot of free time on my hands; so I volunteered.

"When I got to the school, I found 15 of the finest athletes I've ever seen in my life. I had never run across the physical development and talent these guys had on a high school level. It was just a matter of getting them organized."

That team finished 25-0 and won the state championship. The next season they were 26-1, losing the state title game by three points.

Russell also coached Beauford's football team and won the state championship his first season. From that point on, he was hooked. Coaching would be his profession.

From 1955 to 1965 he coached at Union University, where his baseball teams won five consecutive division crowns. He coached at Tusculum College in Greenville before returning to Jackson in 1975 to coach baseball and women's basketball at Lambuth for 10 years.

He was inducted into four halls of fame, including the NAIA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

But his greatest accomplishment was marrying the former Ruth Bennett, his bride of 66 years.

His son, Tommy Russell, is head boys basketball coach at University School of Jackson. Tommy continued to coach his team at games and practice last week after his father's death because he knew that's what he would have wanted.

"It's kind of a strange way to pay tribute to him, I guess, but I learned a lot from him," Tommy said. "The main thing was that no matter how bad things get, give 100 percent and don't give up. Because of that, I felt I ought to be out there coaching."

Tommy has been overwhelmed the past week.

"I'm just amazed at how many lives he touched and how many people he got close to over his life," Tommy said. "He was getting calls from people he coached 70 years ago. He was definitely a people person."