Update: We've got testimony from an eyewitness.
Erk Russell is one of the most colorful members to ever splash his colors on the college football landscape. A former Auburn football, basketball and baseball player, Russell went into coaching at his alma mater, where he was an assistant football coach and head coach of the Tigers' baseball team. After a year at Vanderbilt, Russell embarked on a 17-year stint as Georgia's defensive coordinator. Russell's defense helped Vince Dooley's Bulldogs to the national championship in 1980, which led to an 8-year run as Georgia Southern's head coach, where he led the Eagles to three FCS national championships.
But more than his on-field exploits, Russell is remembered as a master motivator with a knack for marketing. He coined phrases such as "One More Time," "TEAM me" and "GATA" -- a phrase that has since jumped from Statesboro into the larger football lexicon.
However, one of Russell's motivational tactics -- well intentioned as it was -- has not been duplicated elsewhere, with good reason.
In 1986, Russell was Georgia Southern's head coach when the national cocaine epidemic was at its peak. Boston Celtic Len Bias and Cleveland Brown Don Rogers had recently died from cocaine overdoses, and Russell didn't want to see a Georgia Southern Eagle meet a similar demise. So, in a story he originally told the Augusta Chronicle in 1998, which was reprinted around the time of his 2006 death and resurfaced on Reddit CFB over the weekend, Russell had an idea for a demonstration.
He gathered the entire team into the locker room, then had brought a friend in carrying a small box. Once the friend entered the room, Russell instructed his assistants to lock the doors. The man placed the box at the middle of the room, and Russell opened with a stick, revealing a live rattlesnake.
“They wanted to get out of that room,” Russell said. “I told ‘em, “When that white stuff (cocaine) comes into a room, you’re not nearly as apt to leave as when that rattlesnake comes in. Look, they’ll both kill you. If that white stuff comes into a room, you get out of there like it’s a rattlesnake because it is!’”
Russell could have killed or seriously injured one of his players, but he assumed that risk for the right reasons, he said.
"That’s the point I wanted to get across,” said Russell. "If they ever saw drugs around, I wanted them to leave the room."
"In football, like in life, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get the job done. I’ve always believed that. Football is still football, it’s a game of tackling and blocking and competitive people. Every time I told a joke or told a story or pulled a stunt, there had to be a moral behind it."