“I’m gonna say it one more time. We are Georgia Southern. Our colors are blue and white. We call ourselves the Bald Eagles. We call our offense the Georgia Power Company ... and that’s a terrific name for an offense. Our snap count is ‘rate, hike.’ We practice on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek and that’s in Statesboro, Georgia – the gnat capital of America. Our weekends begin on Thursday. The coeds outnumber the men,
3-2. They’re all good-looking and they’re all rich. And folks, you just can’t beat that ... and you just can’t beat Georgia Southern. And you ain’t seen nothin yet! ….”
— Erk Russell
That’s just one of many famed sayings from former Georgia Southern University football coach Erk Russell. And it’s just one of many reasons that Derek Sills, president of the Midway-based Coastal Eagle Club, wants a life-size statue of the legendary coach placed at the campus.
The Erk Russell Project came to life around November 2010 and recently has gained momentum due in part to Sills’ promotion of the project and the respect and admiration many have for the father of GSU football.
After spending 17 years as the defensive coordinator for the University of Georgia under then-coach Vince Dooley, Russell arrived in 1981 at Georgia Southern College, as it was called then, and began the modern era of football at a school that had stopped sponsoring the sport in 1941 due to World War II.
From 1981-89, Russell took the infant program to three NCAA Division 1-AA championships and college football’s first 15-0 record of the 20th century.
Russell was the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame Coach of the Year from 1984-86. He was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1991 and became USA Today’s Georgia Coach of the Year and Coach of the Decade in 1989.
Russell’s final record at Georgia Southern was 83–22–1.
Across the GSU community he was known as the ‘Bald Eagle.’ After every Eagle win he would smoke a victory cigar, a tradition still carried on by Eagle fans as a tribute to Russell, whose sudden death from a stroke in 2006 stunned the Eagle nation and college football world.
His legacy lives on in the halls of GSU, where his ‘We are Georgia Southern,’ quote is visible throughout the campus.
It was these quotes, stories and memories that Sills wants to preserve and pass on to future generation.
“This is going to be a full life size statue of Erk Russell we want to put on the sidelines at GSU,” Sills said. “And the reason we want to do that…I’ve taught my children the lessons that Erk taught me whether it was ‘Big Team little me’ or ‘Do right;’ all the things that Erk said…every tradition that he has ever done at GSU my kids know about them. But something needs to be there for the next generation so that is (the statue) a talking point to teach these lessons. They are legendary lessons that still reverberate across the state.”
Russell started many traditions at GSU, including the legend of Eagle Creek.
It was nothing more than a drainage ditch his players had to cross several times a day during practice sessions. Russell named it Beautiful Eagle Creek and brought along a jug of the water to Northern Iowa during the 1985 playoffs. Russell sprinkled some of the water on the field and the Eagles won the game. They went on to win six national championships with the help of a little ‘Eagle Creek’ water.
It’s a tradition Sills said current Eagle coach Jeff Monken spoke about when talking about the project.
““This is how you know Coach Monken gets the legend of Erk too,” Sills said. “He leaned over to me when we were at a meeting and he said, ‘Derek we will put the statue anywhere you want to but I think we ought to put it in front of the new football facility. Because that leads into the Hall of Fame and we should surround it with a reflecting pool filled with Eagle Creek water.’ So he gets it and respects it.”
Sill said the statue will unite Russell fans across the state, including many UGA supporters.
At UGA, Russell named the defense the “Junkyard Dawgs” to motivate his players. During his tenure at UGA, Russell’s “Dawgs” played 192 games and held the opposition to 17 or fewer points in 135 of them.
“It will bridge Georgia and Georgia Southern because he was the defensive coordinator at UGA during the 1980 national championship,” Sills said.
“He was there for 17 years and he coined the term that Georgia called ‘One more time.’ In the 1980 national championship game, he wore a T-shirt that said ‘One more time.’ His last game at GSU was the 1989 national championship game. He pulled off his pullover and he was wearing the original ‘One more time’ T-shirt. Our idea is that he will be wearing that T-shirt on the statue.”
Sills, who sits on the GSU Alumni Board, Athletic Foundation Board and the current presidential steering committee for the GSU football facility upgrades, said he received a donation and a letter from Dooley supporting the cause.
This weekend, Sills had the opportunity to meet Vince Dooley and the artist who created his statue, Stan Mullins. Mullins is just one of the sculptors Sills spoke with during his research who is jumping at the opportunity to build a tribute to Russell.
Sills has garnered support from ESPN sports analyst and Atlanta Journal Constitution freelancer Tony Barnhart, known as Mr. College Football, who tweeted, “Georgia Southern boosters are raising funds to build a statue of Erk Russell at Paulson Stadium. I’m in.”
The cost to build the 7-foot-tall statue is around $80,000 but additional funds will be needed to transport, store and build the base. The IT department at GSU already has set up a website for the project at http://eaglesforerk.org/
“As an Eagle alumni, I think it’s very important to honor such a great coach and person,” Danny Creasy, vice president of the Coastal Eagle Club, said. “Simply put, Georgia Southern is the school it is today because of what Erk accomplished while he was there. Erk was a legend and had a huge impact on GSU as a whole and not just athletics. Eagles never should forget what he did for our school. Erk made you proud to be an Eagle.”
The Coastal Eagle Club is hosting a “Pig-Paddy Party” May 27, coinciding with its annual alumni gathering. Tickets for the party are $20 and include food, music, beverages, a chance to win $5,000 and the opportunity to mingle with the entire GSU coaching staff. All proceeds from the party go to the Erk Russell Project. For more information, call 912-408-6521.
For more information on the Erk Russell Project, go to http://eaglesforerk.org/ or http://southernboosters.chipin.com/erk-statue-