The Washington Redskins announced Steve Russ as their linebackers coach last week.
Russ, 47, played linebacker at Air Force before being drafted by the Denver Broncos in the seventh round of the 1995 NFL Draft. He made his NFL coaching debut with the Carolina Panthers under Redskins new head coach Ron Rivera, helping former Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechley and veteran Shaq Thompson to some of their best statistical seasons.
Below are five things Redskins fans should know about who will be in charge of their linebackers as Rivera switches the team to a 4-3 defense.
1. He was drafted by the XFL.
The XFL is set for a relaunch when its 2020 season kicks off on Feb. 8, but the first attempt at creating another professional football league came 20 years prior and its existence was short-lived. Founded in 1999, the XFL only lasted one season before folding in 2001.
Russ, who played for three seasons with the Broncos, was also a part of the XFL's brief existence.
Russ was the 16th overall pick by the Los Angeles Xtreme during the XFL's inaugural draft. He ultimately did not play a snap for the Xtreme; he was listed under the "preseason/training camp/injured reserve/released/traded" list on the team's official website.
The team valued the leadership skills he developed as a former Air Force lieutenant and experience of being on two Super Bowl rosters with the Broncos in 1998 and 1999.
You can check out his profile with the Xtreme, HERE.
2. He was only the fifth player in Air Force history to be drafted in the NFL.
Russ was a solid player with Air Force. He was a second-team All-WAC selection in 1994 and played in both the Blue-Grey All-Star game and East-West Shrine game in his senior season. That was enough to get the Broncos' attention, as he was selected with the 215th overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.
Being drafted by an NFL franchise is an accomplishment in itself, but it put Russ in rare company as one of the few Air Force players to be drafted in the NFL in school history.
Prior to Russ being drafted, there were only four Air Force players to be selected by an NFL team: wide receiver Ernie Jennings, kickers David Lawson and Joseph Wood and defensive tackle Chad Hennings. Russ was the fifth added to that list, and at the time he was the highest-drafted player in school history. That changed two years later when the San Diego Chargers selected center Dan Palmer in the sixth round.
There have only been three Air Force players drafted since Russ. Palmer was drafted in 1997, followed by defensive tackle Bryce Fisher in 1999 by the Buffalo Bills and long snapper Austin Cutting in 2019 by the Minnesota Vikings.
3. He's a Brian Bullard Award recipient.
Created after the 1984 season, the Brian Bullard Memorial Award is the program's highest honor and is given to one Air Force football player each year. It requires unselfishness, 110% effort, total commitment to the team and pride in his role. It's so highly regarded in the program that former head coach Fisher DeBarry dubbed it the "Air Force Heisman."
To receive the award puts players in rare company; only 42 players and coaches have received the award since its inception. Russ was the 11th player added to that list during his senior year. Here's a description of the award form the Air Force media guide:
"The recipient of this prestigious award cares about the team first and himself second. He loves his team and his teammates and will do everything he can to make his brothers better. He is a source of encouragement for everyone and truly leads by example. He gives his all and truly enjoys every practice. He shows great pride in his role on the team and is a pleasure to coach."
4. He brings experience as a defensive coordinator.
After his brief stay in the XFL, Russ became a college coach and worked for programs like Ohio, Syracuse and Wake Forest. In 2012, he returned to his alma mater as the assistant head coach/co-offensive coordinator. Two years later, he moved to the other side of the ball as the team's sole defensive coordinator -- a role that allowed him and his defense to excel.
Prior to Russ taking over, Air Force allowed 40 points per game and finished with a 2-10 record -- the program's worst in 33 seasons. That completely turned around with Russ, as the team finished 10-3 while the defense allowed a nation-best 15.8 points per game. They defeated Army, 23-6, and ended the season by winning three of their last four games.
Russ led the Air Force defense for three more seasons before joining Rivera's staff with the Panthers as the linebackers coach for the 2018 season.
5. Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson thrived under him.
The Panthers already had a pair of solid linebackers in Kuechly and Thompson when Russ arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was only there for two years of their careers, but both of them turned in some of their best seasons with him as their coach.
Based on Kuechly's reputation as one of, if not the best linebacker of the past decade, it's hard to imagine Russ helping him improve in any category, but that's exactly what happened. Kuechly had 130 tackles in 2018 -- the most he had in a single season since 2014 -- and had a career-high in tackles for loss (20) and tied a career-high in quarterback hits (five). Thompson, on the other hand, had career-highs in tackles (80) and sacks (3.5).
In 2019, both improved even further, as Kuechly had 144 tackles, which gave him a total of 1,092 for his career. Thompson had 108 tackles for another career-high and had 11 tackles for loss, which is almost three times as many as he had in 2018.