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Added role brings new responsibilities for Ryan Russell


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Added role brings new responsibilities for Ryan Russell

By Tom Green | tgreen@al.com

5-6 minutes

Strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell runs the guys after practice on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. Russell has been tasked with overseeing Auburn's strength and conditioning program remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. Todd Van Emst/AU AthleticsTodd Van Emst/AU Athletics

Ryan Russell has added a new job title to his resume this offseason.

The longtime Auburn strength and conditioning coach — officially the associate athletics director of athletic performance — is now also serving as the Tigers’ executive director of football. The role was added as part of Gus Malzahn’s staff restructuring this offseason, which included the hiring of three new position coaches (including offensive coordinator Chad Morris), the naming of linebackers coach Travis Williams as recruiting coordinator and the addition of 10 new support staffers.

With the added title has come additional duties for Russell, who already oversees Auburn’s strength and conditioning program and lately has been tasked with remotely managing workouts for players during the coronavirus pandemic that has halted all in-person organized team activities. Among his new duties is overseeing all incoming freshmen when they arrive on campus to get them acclimated to the program.

“Any time a freshman comes on campus, I’m kind of in charge of their character-development program and getting them started on the right foot,” Russell said Tuesday during a Zoom call with local reporters. “So, that has been a lot of fun. It’s things that we preach down here all the time in the weight room that sometimes I don’t necessarily get to go in-depth on as much as I would like.”

That has meant taking the lead for each of Auburn’s 10 early enrollees, which included nine true freshman and a junior college transfer this spring. Among those signees were running back Tank Bigsby, defensive lineman Zykeivous Walker, wide receiver Kobe Hudson and defensive backs Ladarius Tennison and Chris Thompson Jr., as well as Romello Height, Avery Jernigan, Tate Johnson, Chayil Garnett and Kilian Zierer, the JUCO transfer who is one of the few players still on campus during the current quarantine.

Prior to the cancelation of spring practices and on-campus activities in mid-March, and before players departed for spring break on March 6, Russell met with those early enrollees once a week for about half an hour to go over certain topics and criteria that “are going to help them build this elite edge” both in life and on the field. The underlying theme, Russell said, is that is all comes down to decisions and behaviors.

While the shutdown of college sports came suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly—and Russell noted this is the most time Auburn’s players have had off since the end of the 2012 season, prior to Malzahn’s arrival when the team didn’t make a bowl game—it has proven to be a good early test for those newcomers to apply what they’ve learned in their meetings with the program’s new executive director of football.

“This is a good time obviously right now,” Russell said. “We didn’t expect this to go down, but this is a good time for those guys to put a lot of stuff that we went over in that program in place. And put it to use.”

Russell has maintained contact with those players to an extent during the shutdown, but with coaches currently limited to four hours per week of meetings and instruction with players, Russell has been cautious about how much time he spends contacting the newcomers. The longer this ordeal lasts, however, he isn’t opposed to setting up weekly Zoom calls to reinitiate those meetings.

Though his capacity in his new role is somewhat hindered by the current circumstances, Russell has so far enjoyed the advantages of being the first point of contact for the program’s newcomers upon their arrival.

“Like I said, I’m able to hit on some of that stuff in training but we’ve got to train while they’re down here,” Russell said. “So, normally it’s after the workout going over something with them for three or four minutes, if that. But now I’m able to slow down a little bit and dive into a little more depth on some of the things that we’ve talked about. And that’s also good from a cultural standpoint, getting them acclimatized to what we expect out of them from a culture standpoint, how they’re going to help contribute to the culture that’s already been developed here.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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Well, that was interesting. "Executive Director of Football". That sounds more like the head coach's job, but whatever.

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