Leader Blues

Friday, May 01, 2009

SPORTS >> Falcons tab Russell as new football coach

Leader sports editor

Longtime Jacksonville defensive coordinator Rick Russell has been named new head coach of the North Pulaski Falcons.

Russell, who replaces current athletic director Tony Bohannon at the helm, was introduced at an assembly at the high school gym on Friday afternoon.

Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley said North Pulaski is getting a solid, well-rounded coach in Russell.

“They’re getting a good football coach, no question about it,” Whatley said. “Rick does an outstanding job, not only in wins and losses, but in making a difference in kids’ lives.”

Despite the fact that Russell has been defensive coordinator for the past eight years, Whatley said his expertise is not limited to defense.

“When you find a good defensive coach, he’s someone who knows both sides of the football,” he said. “You cannot be a good defensive coordinator and not know both schemes. He just knows the game.”

Russell will be entering a challenging environment with a program that has won just five games over the past six seasons. The Falcons ended a 32-game losing streak in the fall of 2007. Though they lost their final six games of that season, hopes were relatively high with the return of 16 starters last fall.

But after opening with a win over Searcy, North Pulaski never won again and Bohannon resigned shortly after the season ended. He has continued to hold the athletic director’s job and will be the ninth-grade football coach.

For Russell, who played football for both Lou Holtz and Frank Broyles at the University of Arkansas, it will be his first opportunity to run a varsity football program, though he has a wealth of experience at the high school and junior high level in various sports. Russell started the baseball program at Pulaski Academy and won two state championships as head coach.

“I’m excited to get started,” Russell said. “I’m not looking at (North Pulaski’s past struggles). When I came here, I was looking at the school, at the nice new facilities. They’ve got things in place here. The past has nothing to do with it. I’m only looking forward.”

High school spring football starts the middle of this month so Russell is coming to the program late. He said he has yet to be able to meet with his players and is uncertain what his roster might look like. But he plans to start meeting with them next week and begin evaluating his talent.

Priority No. 1, Russell said, will be conditioning and strength, and he’s confident that his weight program will make a big difference.

“We’re going to have spring football, but to be honest with you, it’s really going to be incorporated into more of an off-season program,” he said. “I have a great weight program that gets results. When I came in, the coaches told me that we’ve got speed here, but the one area we’re lacking in is strength.

“We’ll continue that off-season program through the summer and I think within six or eight weeks, you’ll see a difference in size and strength.”

Russell said his offensive and defensive philosophy will be to mold a system around the talent available to him and that flexibility will be a premium.

“One of the most difficult things as a defensive coordinator was when you went up against an offense that ran out of 15 or 20 formations,” Russell said. “Because you have to spend a lot of time learning how to line up for all those formations and less time focusing on stopping them. So we’ll be very multiple with the types of formations we’ll use.”

Defensively, Russell said he has always been partial to the 4-2-5 formation, but again with an eye toward flexibility.

“We can easily shift out of that into a 5-2 or a 6-2, or a 4-3 or any type of defense,” he said. “We want to build our strengths and hide our deficiencies.”

Russell indicated that not all of the assistant coaches would remain in place, though he was uncertain what changes might take place.

“We’re looking into that,” he said. “Some of the same coaches will be here and some will be in different positions — at junior high instead of high school. Coach Bohannon is helping me with determining how many coaches we need to hire or what positions are going to be available.”

After playing football for two years at Arkansas, Russell transferred to Ouachita Baptist and eventually finished up at Central Arkansas. After college, Russell was the junior high football coach at Sylvan Hills before moving up to assistant coach at the high school for the next five years. He was also head baseball coach.

After six years at PA, where in addition to being head baseball coach, he was head junior high football coach and then offensive coordinator at the high school, Russell headed to Nashville before coming to Jacksonville in 1995.

“I feel like I’ve got a plan to make kids better people and better players,” he said. “I believe that’s what a football program should be about.”