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Sports Talk: Erk's Dilemma

Former Georgia Southern football coach Erk Russell has expressed displeasure about comments made by current Southern coach Mike Sewak when he recently fired Erk's son, Rusty, as the Eagle's defensive coordinator. Reports indicate that the senior Coach Russell disputes Sewak's claims of having told him about Rusty's firing beforehand.

Erk Russell is a college coaching legend. The job he did as Georgia's defensive coordinator in the sixties and seventies was splendid. He worked magic at Georgia Southern when he restarted the program in 1981 and quickly wrapped an iron fist around Division 1-AA football. He should have been hired at Georgia when Vince Dooley retired.

I do not know what was said or not said between coaches Russell and Sewak. It is unfortunate that this situation occurred and feelings have been hurt. It could be a bad deal for Southern football if Coach Russell is gone. He is one legend that serves a purpose by hanging around.

Coach Sewak was in a very precarious position. He felt the need to make a change at defensive coordinator. That is his right as head coach but the change happened to involve Erk Russell's son. I know little about his reasons for making this change, but I don't think it involved disloyalty between the two nor do I believe it was as simple as one season of poor defense. Sewak obviously had what he considered legitimate concerns.

I had one class with Rusty at Georgia, and like his dad he is a congenial and witty guy. Like most assistant football coaches, Rusty and his family have led somewhat of a vagabond life. It is a life that requires a daily almanac check to see where you are living. It's a shame, but part of the territory.

Once Rusty Russell came to Georgia Southern to coach, this situation became inevitable. It was not a matter of if it would happen, but when. If it didn't involve Mike Sewak, it would have been someone else. Rusty was the runner-up to Sewak for the head job when it came open in 2002. A problem could have flared then, but to everyone's credit, it didn't.

An appropriate question might be would Rusty Russell ever have been at Georgia Southern had his father not been there. The only way Rusty's tenure at Southern was ever going to have a happy ending is if Rusty or Coach Sewak left Statesboro for greener pastures.

This is the nature of football coaching. Someone is always coming or going. Many times, those coming and going are traveling with hard feelings. It's true even on the high school level. I've been there, and the lack of stability will wear on you.

Once you decide to be a coach you can bet on experiencing it. The only way to avoid it is to do what I did; decide to be a coach no more. That's a tough choice to make.

Web posted on Thursday, March 11, 2004

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