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Rusty Russell (American football coach)

Harvey Nual "Rusty" Russell (December 4, 1895 – December 21, 1983) was an American football coach who coached at the high school, junior college, and college level in the state of Texas. He served as the head football coach at Southern Methodist University (SMU) from 1950 to 1952 and Howard Payne University from 1962 to 1963, compiling career college football coaching record of 17–30–3. Russell was also head football coach at an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas, the Masonic Home and School, from 1927 to 1941. He co-authored the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Code of Ethics in 1952 along with fellow coaches William D. Murray, Lloyd Jordan, and Bud Wilkinson. He is known for developing the spread offense.

Rusty Russell
Biographical details
Born(1895-12-04)December 4, 1895
Fredonia, Texas
DiedDecember 21, 1983(1983-12-21) (aged 88)
Plano, Texas
Playing career
1919–1921Howard Payne
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1922Granger HS (TX)
1923–1924Temple HS (TX) (assistant)
1925–1926Temple HS (TX)
1927–1942Masonic Home (TX)
1942–1944Highland Park HS (TX)
1945–1949SMU (backfield)
1962–1963Howard Payne
Head coaching record
Overall17–30–3 (college)
45–30–3 (junior college)
181–40–14 (high school)
Accomplishments and honors
1950 Champion Spark Plug NCAA Sportsman of the Year
All Conference End at Howard Payne (1921)
Howard Payne University Hall of Fame 1989
The Texas Coaches Hall of Honor 1961
Texas High School Sports Hall of Fame 1990
The Texas Sports Hall of Fame 1971

Playing careerEdit

Russell attended Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, where he was a three-sport letterman, in track, basketball, and football, and was captain of both the basketball and football teams. In football he was named all-Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association (TIAA) at End.

Coaching careerEdit

Russell started his coaching career at the high school level. In 1922 he was the head coach at Granger High School for one year (7-3 record). In 1923 he became the assistant head coach at Temple High School then head coach in 1925 and 1926 where he took them to the state semifinals in 1926 (1925–26; 20–3 record). In 1927 he became head coach at Fort Worth Masonic Home (1927–1942) he had a record of 127–30–12 (81% win percentage). The Masonic Home was an orphanage with a total high school enrollment of about 160 boys and girls. They played in the top class at the time, the "A" leagues in Texas, with schools who had thousands of students. In his 16 years at Masonic Home, he went to the State playoffs 10 times. Building a football program from scratch, Russell guided the Masonic Home's 'Mighty Mites' to a tie versus Corsicana High School in the 1932 state championship game. Russell's 1941 team was undefeated but he withdrew from the playoffs following his first postseason win after finding he had an ineligible player who was a year older than the family had listed. The story of the Mighty Mites and their rise from a team of rag-tag orphans to a Texas football powerhouse was recently told by New York Times bestselling author and former Dallas-area sports writer Jim Dent in "Twelve Mighty Orphans"[1] Jim Dent refers to Russell as "The Father of the Spread Offense". In 1942, he actually coached at both Masonic Home in Fort Worth, Texas, and at Highland Park High 35 Miles away in Dallas. He arranged to coach on alternate days and had the games arranged on Fridays and Saturdays so they would not conflict. Masonic Home was a coin toss away from playing Highland Park in the 1942 playoffs.

Beginning in 1942 Russell coached at Highland Park High School (1942–44; 27–4 record), where he guided a squad that featured Bobby Layne and Doak Walker to an appearance in the 1944 state championship game. After he was hired as backfield coach at Southern Methodist University, Russell lured away Doak Walker from the University of Texas. As head assistant coach and responsible for the offense, Russell enjoyed a 32 win 16 loss and 5 tie record, where the Mustangs were nationally ranked, won two Southwest Conference championships, and made two Cotton Bowl appearances in 1947 and 1948. Following Matty Bell's resignation on January 22, 1950, Russell was immediately named his successor. After a good start with a 6–4 season in 1950 where SMU was rated #1 in the nation midway through the season, Russell was increasingly under fire after two losing seasons in 1951 and 1952. He eventually resigned on February 2, 1953. Russell then coached one year at Schreiner College, 1953 (5–3–1). He then went on to Victoria College as head coach and athletic director from 1954 through the 1960 seasons, where his record was (40–27–2). He then retired from coaching.

In 1962, he came out of retirement to be the head coach at his alma mater, Howard Payne University. He again retired after two losing seasons. His record as a high school head coach over 23 seasons, was 181 wins, 40 losses, and 14 ties (82% win %), His overall record as a head coach in 23 years as high school and 13 years as college head coach is 250-100-21 (71% win percentage). He was an assistant coach for 5 years in College at SMU and 2 years in high school at Temple, Texas, for a total career of 42 years. He held a master's degree in education and was a teacher and principal many of his high school coaching years. Russell coached a number of All-Americans while at SMU, among them (Doak Walker, Dick McKissack, Kyle Rote, Dick Hightower and Val Joe Walker. Doak Walker also asked Russell to make his introduction as he received the 1948 Heisman trophy award. In addition, Walker won the Maxwell Award in 1947. Russell also had two All-Americans at Victoria (Charlie Burk and Floyd Dellinger). Russell coached a number of NFL players, among them: Kyle Rote, Doak Walker, Bobby Layne, Dewitt Coulter, Hardy Brown, Herschel Forester, Bill Forester, Paul Page, Raymond Berry, Fred Benners, Pat Knight, Ed Bernet, Forrest Gregg and others.

Using a complex passing attack, unheard of at the time, Russell is considered one of the forerunners of the spread offense.[2]


Russell was inducted to the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in 1990. He is member of the Sports Hall of Fame at Howard Payne University, the Texas High School Coaches Hall of Honor, and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. He won NCAA National Coach of the week when at SMU, once in 1950 and again in 1951 for his respective wins over Ohio State and Notre Dame. Russell was also a charter member of the National Football Hall of Fame Association.


Russell died in a hospital in Plano, Texas on Wednesday, December 21, 1983 at the age of 90.[3]

Head coaching recordEdit


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
SMU Mustangs (Southwest Conference) (1950–1952)
1950 SMU 6–4 2–4 T–5th
1951 SMU 3–6–1 1–4–1 7th
1952 SMU 4–5–1 3–2–1 3rd
SMU: 13–15–2 6–10–2
Howard Payne Yellow Jackets (Lone Star Conference) (1962–1963)
1962 Howard Payne 1–8–1 0–6–1 8th
1963 Howard Payne 3–7 1–6
Howard Payne: 4–15–1 2–12–1
Total: 17–30–3


  1. ^ WFAA: New book honors North Texas underdog team of the Depression
  2. ^ The Palm Beach Post: Shooting Down A Nice Story[dead link]
  3. ^ Blaudschun, Mark (December 22, 1983). "Former SMU coach Rusty Russell dies at 90". The Dallas Morning News. p. 9B.

Further readingEdit

  • Dent, Jim (2007). Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 978-0-312-30872-8.

External linksEdit