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Randy Hollis: Coach Phil Russell made a huge difference in people's lives at Ogden High

Published: Thursday, May 23 2013 12:25 a.m. MDT

"One year we challenged him to not swear any more and not to drink Tab any more, because it's just not good for you," she recalled. "But he got so ornery at not being able to swear or drink Tab that we told him to please just start up again."

Jones noted that at Ogden High, there is a great diversity of students — some from well-to-do families on the east bench, others from poor families in the inner city, and many that are African-American or Hispanic.

With his lovable yet stern way, Russell was able to break down any possible barriers between different socioeconomic groups and races and turn them into a winning team.

"Ogden High is an interesting school with such a wide variety of kids," Jones said. "But he didn't care about that. He'd take those different groups of girls and put them together, and he made them winners. He didn't care if they had different backgrounds, he cared for every single player exactly the same. He'd treat you all the same and love you all the same.

"He's just a unique guy. He was always so positive and upbeat. Years after I graduated, I'd see him and he'd always say, 'We're gonna be so awesome and we're gonna (half-court) trap the heck out of everybody. We're gonna be great.' He believed in every team and every player, and he has a great ability to bring out the potential in every kid.

"He's a great motivator, and another secret to his success is he's a big believer in fundamentals. And he was also great at always teaching us a lot of life lessons along the way," she said. "He's seen it all, he's done it all, and it's really a sad day to see him go. I don't think we'll ever see another one like him. I would've loved for my kids to play for him."

Russell has certainly seen many changes during his years in the coaching/teaching profession.

Back when he started, the entire football coaching staff actually taught at the school, too, which is seldom the case now.

In this era of specialization, it's rare to see an athlete play multiple sports like they did back in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Instead, many athletes play on club or comp teams and compete in the same sport year-round.

The quality of players and teams has become much stronger than it was in those early days, Russell says.

"There was a time when, if you had one or two good players on a team, you could go a long way," he said. "… You could add to those two players and really put a team on the floor. But you can't do that now; you've got to have five players that can really play the game.

"It has evolved to the point that kids are so skilled now that they're very competitive. It's incredible what the girl athletes have become. They start early and they're attending camps and they're doing all the things that the boys, of course, have done for a long time. I think most of the girls are really focused on their individual things that they want to do. … And there are some girls who are such good players nowadays they could play on the boys team.

"Club sports have hurt high school sports as far as limiting the number of sports that a kid plays," Russell said. "In soccer, they go from high school soccer to club soccer to indoor soccer to co-ed soccer and hell, what's next, naked soccer? I don't know. It never ends. And the kids' next season after soccer is girls basketball, so there's a lot of distractions, too.

"Club sports are mostly all-star teams, and I've always liked my teams to play together. I've always worried about the promises made to kids on the club level about 'We're going to be able to find you a scholarship more readily that your high school program.' And they're shelling out a lot of money on those club teams."

What's more, nowadays schools like Ogden High face serious sports budget-crunch issues in the Ogden School District.

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