Mike Leach always preaches playing well on "all three sides of the ball," and the 10th year head coach showed his commitment that phrase with the hiring of one of the top special teams coaches in the country in Eric Russell. The 41-year-old Idaho native comes to the South Plains after spending a highly successful two seasons in the same position at Louisiana Tech.
In his first year at Tech, he helped make the Bulldogs one of the top overall return teams in the country. Tech ranked No. 8 in punt return average and No. 26 in kickoff returns. Philip Beck ranked fourth in the country individually in punt return average.
Russell helped punter Chris Keagle average 41.3 yards a punt and earn first team All-WAC honors. Keagle and the punt coverage unit ranked No. 27 in the nation in net punting and tops in the WAC.
The Bulldogs also developed quite a reputation for blocking kicks as freshman Dominique Faust blocked three field goals and one punt while as a team Tech blocked a total of five kicks.
Russell spent 13 seasons at North Texas, including five as the special teams coordinator, where he led some of the nation's top special teams units. During his tenure at North Texas, Russell helped lead the program to four-straight Sun Belt Conference titles and four-consecutive appearances in the New Orleans Bowl from 2001 through 2004.
His Mean Green special teams units were annually ranked among the best in the Sun Belt Conference in punt returns, kickoff coverage and field goal percentage. North Texas ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt in net punting in 2002 and 2003 and No. 1 in kick returns in 2002.
The Mean Green ranked No. 1 in the country in punt return defense and No. 3 in kick return defense in 2003, and No. 5 in kick return defense in 2005. During his time as special teams coordinator, North Texas blocked 14 punts, including seven during the 2003 season.
Russell helped develop two of the top kickers in the program's history in Jason Ball, who set the school record for consecutive field goals made, and Nick Bazaldua, who became the school's all-time scoring leader.
In addition to his special teams duties, Russell served as the defensive tackles coach from 1994 through 2000 before taking over the North Texas defensive ends starting in 2001 and outside linebackers in 2006.
Russell coached 15 all-conference selections during his time at North Texas, including Adrian Awasom, who developed into a Lombardi and Hendricks Award candidate and who finished his career as the Sun Belt Conferences all-time sack leader.
Prior to joining the North Texas staff in 1994, Russell served as a graduate assistant at New Mexico in 1993 and at Idaho in 1991.
An all-state quarterback at St. Marie's High School, Russell was named the Idaho Offensive Player of the Year as a senior before earning all-conference honors at Spokane (Wash.) Falls Community College in 1986-87.
He earned his bachelor's degree in public relations from Idaho in 1991. Russell is married to the former Shannon Cook of Tyler, Texas, and the couple has a two-year-old son, Hayden.
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