As you know, Erk Russell’s nomination to the College Football Hall of Fame was received by the National Football Foundation prior to the December 11 deadline. Out of an abundance of caution, I asked the Foundation’s special projects director to e-mail me to confirm that the package had been received.
She was kind enough to notify me that the nomination had arrived, and she added that Coach Russell already had been nominated and she would add the materials I submitted to his file. This caught me by surprise. Over the course of the last week, I have corresponded with Rosemary Carter from Georgia Southern’s athletics media relations office; Georgia sports information director Claude Felton; Ric Mandes, the co-author of Erk’s autobiography and a longtime friend of Coach Russell’s; Erk’s son, Jay Russell; Dr. David "Bucky" Wagner, the former Georgia Southern athletic director; and Statesboro Herald sports editor Matt Yogus, none of whom gave even the slightest hint of being aware that Coach Russell’s name already had been submitted. I was not told, and I did not ask, who else had nominated Coach Russell for the Hall.
Although the Foundation’s special projects director noted that Coach Russell fell short of the Hall’s requirement that a head coach serve for at least ten years, she indicated that Erk was being considered by the Hall’s Veterans Committee.
The College Football Hall of Fame Veterans Committee functions much like the committee of that same name overseeing admission to Cooperstown, examining special cases that otherwise might have slipped through the cracks.
The names of the members of the Veterans Committee are not released publicly, for fear that they will be bombarded with solicitations, but the Committee is chaired by Jack Lengyel, the longtime coach and athletic administrator who was played by Matthew McConaughey in the movie "We Are Marshall."
The Veterans Committee meets annually in early April to consider cases such as Erk Russell’s which involve special circumstances. Frankly, while this is not the ordinary avenue for getting a candidate into the Hall of Fame, I suspect it is the route that stands the best chance of success, as the decisionmakers will be looking at the overall worthiness of the nominee rather than focusing on predetermined criteria which serve an important gatekeeping function yet sometimes backfire in situations like this one.