Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

November 5, 2020
‘Uncle Phil’ a true hero and a coaching legend

When I first started liking sports, my heroes came from games on the television, but later I realized that the real heroes are actually much closer to me than that. 

The high school coaches who get paid very little and receive even less attention soon took on hero status for me, and the high school coach who was on the top of that list just happened to by my uncle, Phil Russell. 

Russell, who graduated from Tooele High School in 1963, succumbed on Tuesday after a month-long battle with the COVID-19 virus. 

As a history teacher, Russell spent 42 years at Ogden High School. He forged a legacy coaching many sports at Ogden, but became most well-known as the girls basketball coach for the Tigers. 

As a girls basketball coach, Russell amassed 502 victories, won five state championships and was named a Distinguished High School Coach by the Utah Sports Hall of Fame. As a coach, Russell inspired many athletes but his inspiration had a much wider reach that even he could have imagined. 

A big part of reason that I have chosen to work in athletics is because of the example set by Russell. Traveling to watch my Uncle Phil coach was an experience and the most memorable part of it was how his players reacted to his coaching and how much they respected him. 

I saw how much joy and pride he felt in the athletes that he coached, and that was something that I wanted to feel in my life. The way that Russell treated people is the same way that I try to deal with athletes every day working in athletics. 

He didn’t have winning seasons all the time but that didn’t stop him from inspiring. The way he coached was similar to the way that he treated people off the court and he was loved by many. 

Throughout all the games that I watched him coach and the countless amount of memories of victories that I have, the most memorable experience that I had with my Uncle Phil had nothing to do with basketball. 

As a 13-year-old baseball player, I expressed frustration at the difficulty of hitting the baseball during a slump that I was having. I immediately received an invitation to come hit at the batting cages set up inside the Ogden gym. 

Russell could have easily spent time on other things in his busy life but instead took hours out of his weekend to feed baseballs into a pitching machine until I built up more confidence in my hitting. 

It is debatable whether or not my hitting got better, but that moment made a gigantic impression on me that would affect how I treat people and showed me the importance of giving everyone the time of day, no matter how busy life gets. 

The legacy of Phil Russell will not fade quickly, especially for a coach who Ogden High School named their basketball court for. Although coach Russell is not physically here on this Earth, his memory and the people that he touched while here will not soon be forgotten. 

Jake Gordon is a former sports writer for the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin and nephew to Phil Russell. He is now working as an Assistant Athletic Director at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas.

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