Utah Blaze head coach Ron James announced Friday the hiring of New Orleans VooDoo defensive coordinator Jeff Russell as Utah's new general manager/defensive coordinator.
"We are pleased to sign one of the up-and-coming coaching stars in the Arena Football League and are eagerly anticipating his defensive style and strategies to significantly improve the turnover margin for the Blaze next season," James said of his first hire since being named head coach July 9.
As general manager, Russell will work in close conjunction with team president Jason Jones. Besides running the defense, his responsibilities will primarily include player-personnel issues, salary-cap issues and other duties designated by Jones.
"Jeff is regarded as one of the top young coaches in this league, and we believe he will bring tremendous energy and expertise to our team," Jones said. "He has proven he can scout and recruit top talent as well as motivate and maximize the potential of his players."
Russell, who played seven seasons in the AFL, recently completed his second season with the VooDoo. This year his defense ranked first in the league in interceptions (25), tied for first in takeaways, ranked third against the run (14.5) and fifth in points allowed (52.2).
Under Russell, New Orleans' Lin-J Shell led the league in tackles with 118.5, while Calvin Spears was 10th in the league with 84.5 tackles.
"I think it's a good fit for me in taking on the GM role and being more involved in all aspects of the team," Russell said. "It is certainly something for me that is more responsibility than I have had in the past. If you're looking to grow you have to make moves, and to me it seems like a real good fit. I felt comfortable, and I think it's going to be a good move for everybody."
Russell started his coaching career in 2003 as the wide receivers/defensive backs coach for the Detroit Fury. The Fury went from 1-13 in 2002 to 8-8 in 2003. The turnaround tied the AFL's single-season record.
Russell, 36, was a four-year letterman at the University of Pacific and received a bachelor's degree in English. He later earned a master's degree in physical education from Middle Tennessee State.