Air Force’s defense will operate under new management in 2018.
Steve Russ, the former Air Force and NFL linebacker who oversaw an overhaul in six years as the Falcons defensive coordinator, is leaving to coach linebackers for the Carolina Panthers.
The move was first reported by The Charlotte Observer, citing league sources. The Gazette was the first to confirm the news from Russ.
“It was a tough decision because AFA means so much to me, but ultimately coach (Ron) Rivera and coach (Eric) Washington offered me an opportunity of a lifetime,” Russ said.
Rivera, the Panthers head coach, recently promoted Washington to defensive coordinator. Washington and Russ worked together at Ohio University in 2001.
Russ said he will leave for Charlotte no later than Wednesday, a week prior to National Signing Day.
“We are very excited for the challenge and the new chapter in our lives,” he said.
After earning second-team all-WAC honors for the Falcons, Russ was drafted in the seventh round by the Denver Broncos in 1995 and earned two Super Bowl rings with the franchise.
In addition to his first job at Ohio, he also served as defensive coordinator at Syracuse and coached a variety of positions at Wake Forest.
He served as co-defensive coordinator for two seasons at Air Force, including the 2013 season that saw the Falcons give up 40 points per game. The following season he took the reins in a solo capacity and helped engineer a startling turnaround. Employing a blitz-happy scheme that thrived on creating pressure, the Falcons improved their points allowed per game by 15.8 and allowed 100 fewer rushing yards per game. The team went from 10 losses in 2013 to 10 wins in 2014.
Russ was promoted to associate head coach this past season.
Air Force will now have four positions to fill on its staff, as tight ends coach Bart Miller and outside linebackers coach Nick Toth left last week. Teams are also allowed to add one additional spot to their staffs beginning with the upcoming season.
Russ’ daughter, Mackenzie, was a first-team Pikes Peak Athletic Conference volleyball player as a freshman at Palmer Ridge this past fall.