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Why Erk Russell Loved Georgia Southern

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Part 3 in our series looks at Erk's final years as head coach, and the legacy he left behind.

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Well folks, it's been a quick three weeks and we're drawing to a close on our look at lesser known Erk Russell stories, as read in Erk: Football, Fans & Friends.

If you're just joining us, go get caught up with part one here and part two here. No rush, the rest of us will figure out who to kick out of the Sun Belt while we're waiting.

All right, here we go.

You Don't F__k with Beautiful Eagle Creek

Western Kentucky tried to get cute during the 1987 season, pouring a bunch of red dye into Beautiful Eagle Creek ahead of a matchup with GSC.

Big Mistake.

The Hilltoppers were already about to lose to the two-time defending national champions, so they decided they might as well leave with a fun story to go with the bruises.

We'll let the page speak for itself here:

As I already mentioned, Southern won the game.

Georgia Southern's Kicker Once Hit a 63-Yarder

It's hard to believe now, but Georgia Southern's Tim Foley hit a 63-yarder during that same '87 season, which the book says was an NCAA record but apparently wasn't (?). It was a I-AA record, but was tied the exact same day by an Arkansas State kicker. Foley's replacement David Cool hit a 60-yarder the very next year, setting an NCAA record for freshmen. So there's hope.

Erk Wanted No Part of Playing App State in the Winter

Though Southern and App wouldn't play annually until 1993, the Eagles and Mountaineers faced off in Boone in the 1987 playoffs.

"Seriously, for some strange reason the NCAA sent Georgia Southern from Statesboro, Georgia, where the temperature was 70 degrees, to play Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina, where it was about 10 degrees, snowing and sleeting... [the field] was a solid sheet of ice. I thought there was no way we could play football under those conditions."

Erk suggested playing the game in Statesboro, but was turned down. App won 19-0 to end Southern's first championship streak. Another future rival, Furman, ended the 1988 season by beating the Eagles in the National Title game. Grrrrrr.

Erk Nearly Became Head Coach at Georgia... Again

Older fans may be familiar with this story. Following the 1988 season Georgia was looking for a head coach after Vince Dooley decided to just be athletic director. The search committee called Erk. He said he'd think about it but it wasn't likely. They called him again, this time Dooley himself, and made several more attempts before moving on (you may remember Ray Goof eventually got the role).

Erk confirmed to the media that he'd been contacted by Georgia, and later confirmed he'd been offered the job. For some reason UGA's then-president Dr. Charles Knapp decided to contradict that, saying Erk hadn't been offered anything. Erk got the last laugh after Knapp became a candidate for president at the University of Virginia and later withdrew his name.

Russell told a crowd at the 1989 Georgia Sports Hall of Fame banquet, "Dr. Knapp couldn't turn down the Virginia job, I didn't offer it to him."

What no one knew then was Erk already had his eye on retiring after the 1989 campaign.

The '89 team, of course, became the first college football team in the 20th century to win 15 games in a single season. Athletic Director Bucky Wagner helped Georgia Southern win a contract to host the neutral site I-AA championship game in '89, '90 and '91. It became a home game, with Erk's 40-year coaching career ending at "Our House."

"I can remember so many coming up to me, players and friends, shaking my hand. It was all a blur. But a beautiful blur -- full of those great colors, blue and white. We were National Champions for the third time in five years. What a moment for the players. What a moment for their parents. And for our alumni, For everybody."

Erk Really Could Predict the Future

Earlier in the book he predicted the future success of the Florida program. He ends the book sharing some of his coaching philosophies, which includes a cautionary tale about Bobby Bowden. Mr. Dadgum had apparently been offered a lifetime contract at Florida State around 1990.

The tale was about former Georgia coach Harry Mehre.

"He dedicated beautiful Sanford Stadium with a great victory over Yale and went on to win 10 games that year. The Georgia people wanted to show their appreciation and gave Coach Mehre a lifetime contract. The very next year, Georgia was 5-5. They declared him legally dead and fired him."

Yea that's how it goes in college football. Alabama'd kick Saban out of town if he went 6-6 a couple times.

Erk Relished the Underdog Role

The very end of the book features former players and colleagues sharing stories about Erk. His wife mentions the tremendous job Georgia Southern president Dale Lick did in "recruiting" him for the head coaching position. Dooley says Lick did a better job recruiting Russell than he did luring in Herschel Walker.

Dooley also speculates a little as to why the Statesboro idea might've appealed to Russell.

"Erk was the master of the underdog... He always liked for the offense to have the first-class meeting room. He would take the second class meeting room or any other example that would put his defense in an underdog position. He loved that saying, "If life deals you a lemon turn it into lemonade." He carried that philosophy to Georgia Southern where it was extremely effective as he began building a program from scratch."

And build a program he did. Today it might be hard to call yourself an underdog when you've won 75 percent of your games all-time. Then again, anyone can do anything just One More Time.

Russell was still around when I arrived on campus a little over a decade ago. I remember him watching games standing behind one of the end zones. I also attended First Methodist of Statesboro, and remember Erk sneaking in to sit on the back pew right before the service started. It was tempting to try and introduce myself, but I figured with the way he did that he wasn't there to do a bunch of socializing.

He passed away right before the disastrous 2006 season began, with his funeral held at Paulson Stadium. As we all know, Erk's legacy lives on today. I think most people call it "winning."