Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mite-y Good Rusty Days...

So says a headline written when H.N. "Rusty" Russell was 76, with an editorial remark that the legendary coach's only flaw might have been not having a clear head at the beginning of games due to to the hardship of broken-down rusty equipment like Old Blue, the ancient scrap of a pick-up that ferried the team to games. Russell recalled that he'd felt half drunk by the time he arrived at games from driving the old Dodge truck with his team in the back bed. "Dern right I drove it," he said, "that ole truck nearly gassed me to death" with the fumes leaking into the cab.

David Castevens wrote, "Perhaps that's Rusty Russell's only flaw. He stayed intoxicated with football's aroma, from 21 years as a schoolboy coach to the hey-days of Doak Walker at SMU." Russell's indelible mark on football led him to be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. His overall record as a head coach in 23 years of high school and 13 years as college head coach is 250 wins, 100 losses, 21 ties -- a 71% winning percentage. Russell coached 43 teams (he coached two high teams in one year) in 42 years total including his years as assistant coach at SMU before he became head coach and when started coaching at Temple High School as an assistant coach. As an assistant at SMU Russell enjoyed a 32-16-5 record where the Mustangs were nationally ranked, won two Southwest Conference titles, and made two Cotton Bowl appearances in 1947 and 1948.

Bear Bryant, referred to his friend Russell as being the greatest passing coach in the United States. Russell was called a "quiet and congenial" coach, the "man behind the guns" and "an innovator", a "football genius" and a legend.

"People called me a screwball because we did a lot of experimenting. You name it, I tried it, everything from a one man line to a 10," Russell says. He is credited with inventing the spread offense which is in bigger use today than it ever was. Originality of offense was considered to be one of Russell's biggest assets and it was written of him that "He thinks football almost the year around. It is reported that on many occasions he mulls over new plays and formations far into the night, many times getting out of bed in the early hours to diagram a play or work out new assignments. To any fan who has seen his teams in action there is little doubt but that he has some entirely new "stuff"... and they have some plays that only they can work. These plays call for expert handling of the ball back of the line and are so complicated that many times Russell himself loses site of the ball."

Many of his players are so small "as to be of little help" but they, like all Mighty Mites, refer to him not as "coach" but always as "Mr. Russell."

He was twice college coach of the week, retired in 1963, and after 42 years of work, Russell called his 16 football seasons at Masonic Home in Fort Worth "most satisfying." They produced a won-lost-tied record of 127-30-12 and eight of the more exciting teams in the history of Fort Worth. His 11 Mighty Mites Class A teams won seven district championships and tied for another. In all of his life-long career of full-time coaching, he never had a losing season.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Poly in the 50's and 60's. I love the book as it brings back many good memories of school, the parks and creek, the Poly theatre, and people. CD Sealy was the football coach at Poly when I was there. I remember driving by the Home on my way to school and being amazed at all the land, animals and crops grown there. While reading I used Google Earth to fly over Poly and revisit places mentioned in the book. Thanks for a great book and I hope the movie is as good. (Also read Resurection which would have been a much better movie about Notre Dame than Rudy!)
Steve Allie

October 1, 2009 at 8:02 AM  
Anonymous David E. Walston _Victoria College 1959 and 1960 said...

Coach Russell came out of retirement in 1962 after The Victoria College dropped their football Program after the 1960 Season as did most of the Pioneer Conference teams,to be the Head Coach of his Alma Mater Howard Payne University.

He retired after Two Seasons. Would that technically make his retirement year 1964 instead of 1963 as shown in your Blog?

July 23, 2010 at 7:48 AM  
Anonymous Ann Morton said...

Thank you, David, for your comment.

Here is the link to the wikipedia page    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rusty_Russell_%28American_football%29 that has his correct record and years coached. He did end his career at Victoria College after the 1960 season, and they had a really nice retirement dinner for him. Royce Berger is in possession of the film from that dinner. Rusty Russell then moved with Juanita back to Brownwood ,Texas. He lived in Brownwood as a teen, attending Howard Payne Academy for for junior and senior high school, and then he attended Howard Payne College for all 4 years of undergraduate (although he had a break for service in WWI and to heal after his war injuries). His wife, Juanita Cravens Russell, also attended Howard Payne Academy for elementary school, junior and senior high as well, and she then went on to Mary Hardin Baylor college. They both thought of Brownwood as home, so they retired there after he left Victoria after the 1960 season. He stayed retired during the 1961 football season and ended up coaching again at Howard Payne for the 1962 and 1963 seasons. That info is all in his personal records in the possession of his grandson. If he officially retired again that December, then you could call it a 1963 retirement. That event may not have happened until 1964 and yes, his effective retirement would have been after the 1963 season and before the 1964 season, so you could probably say he "retired" effective the 1964 season.

Russell Morton, named for Rusty, was grown with his own children before Rusty died and they were close. Rusty would tell his groandson that from the time he began playing football in High School at Howard Payne Academy, until he was was finished coaching, was 50+ years. He started playing organized football on a team in 1912 and his grandson Russell has a photo of him in his 1913 uniform. So whatever the "official" retirement was, either 1963 or 1964, he sure put in his time!

"I probably attended some of your games  as I did those last two years he was at Howard Payne. I was young but going into a locker room and walking on a real field with fans and lights was just heaven for me," Russell says.  

July 23, 2010 at 7:23 PM  

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