Randy Hollis: Coach Phil Russell made a huge difference in people's lives at Ogden High
Yes, things have certainly changed in many ways since Russell came to OHS in the early 1970s. And for him, it's been a great ride.
"I've loved being in the classroom," he said. "I've really loved teaching U.S. history. That's been the cake, and the frosting has been being able to coach."
Russell related a touching letter to the editor that a young man recently wrote to the local newspaper.
"He said, 'I was never an athlete at Ogden High, I never played one sport. But Phil Russell treated all these kids like they were his favorites. I thought I was his favorite student, but as I got older, I realized that wasn't the case,’ ” Russell said. "He said 'Everybody else tended to think they were his favorites, too.' He just said he really appreciated that. That was really a nice thing for him to say."
Russell admitted that coaches probably receive too much credit and recognition when their teams are winning, while a teacher who spends many years doing his or her job in another non-athletic department receives virtually no recognition — and he thinks that's wrong.
A big, lovable and sentimental lug, Russell compiled 38 basketball scorebooks in his 38 seasons at the Tiger girls' helm, and he included newspaper clippings and photographs along with them, transforming them from scorebooks into invaluable scrapbooks.
Now he's gotta figure out what to do with them.
"It's a great way to keep those memories from each year," he said.
He's been honored with enough Coach of the Year and Hall of Fame awards to fill any trophy case. And they named the floor in the new Tiger gym "Phil Russell Court."
On the wall of his office at the school is this saying:
"Choose the job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life."
"And I really feel that way," Russell said. "I never know what kid or what problem is gonna walk through that door, but every one of them is fun and interesting and solvable. You shed a few tears with kids and you laugh a lot with kids, and that's the thing I'll miss. I'm not gonna miss the bricks in this building, but kids, teachers and experiences, holy mackerel, that's what I'll miss the most."
Indeed, Russell is one of those guys with a tremendous sense of humor, a guy who loves to laugh and to make others do the same. He's a terrific people person who loves those around him — and they love him right back.
He was once told by a principal that he had "a talent for cursing" and yet somehow never offended anyone with it. At a recent reception honoring him, one of his former students was asked, "What have you learned from Coach Russell?" And the student promptly replied, "I've learned 50 ways to use the word 'hell.’ ”
In my 40-plus years as a sports writer, I've had the privilege of getting to know a lot of great coaches, many great men and women who were such terrific people.
But I doubt if any of them have had a more positive impact on people's lives than Phil Russell. He has truly been one of the great, great ones — as a coach, certainly, but most importantly as a guy who made a tremendously caring and lasting difference.