Banana pudding is 80 cents, but only 50 cents if you order a meal with it. The regulars can sit for hours and nobody cares. "Anybody with the guts to drink this coffee deserves a place to sit for as long as he wants," says Russell. "But it is kind of a good place to start the day."
Snooky's is also a good place from which to watch "our sunrise services." Players who misbehave must run Snooky's Trail, a two-mile course, much of which can be seen from the restaurant. It is at Snooky's that Russell philosophizes. Asked what players can learn from him, he says: "Nothin'. Except how to block, tackle, catch it, throw it." He also teaches G.A.T.A. (Get After Their Asses or, in polite surroundings, which Snooky's is not, Get After Them Aggressively) and Do Right. Says Russell: "We teach those things pretty good, and if they learn them O.K., they'll be in good shape in life."
Erskine Russell grew up in Birmingham, the son of an accountant and a housewife, graduated from Auburn in 1949 and received his master's in education in 1952. He was also the school's last four-sport letterman. He coached Grady High in Atlanta to a state championship in 1953, quick-kicking 10 times in a torrential rain to preserve an early lead. Simple solution. Erk coached at Auburn and Vanderbilt and in 1964 joined Dooley at Georgia. While in Athens he had the famed Junkyard Dogs, and occasionally, the Underdogs, but never, until coming to Georgia Southern, No Dogs.
Building a football program out of nothing is a huge step that never would have happened at Georgia Southern without the maverick ways of the president at the time, Dale Lick, now president at the University of Maine. In April 1981 the faculty senate voted about 2 to 1 against the university's starting football. "The faculty has the tendency to think what they decide is the way it will be," says Lick with a smile. "That's not true. Any university you have a high regard for has a football team. Just going to class and studying isn't healthy. You need something to break it up."
The faculty, though, had an important ally. Vernon Crawford, then boss of the Georgia Board of Regents, told Lick, "If I wanted to kill a school, the first thing I would do would be to build a football stadium." But Lick pressed on and got his team. Was there ever any sort of feasibility study? Says Russell: "Sure. We went around the state and said, 'If we get up a team, will y'all come?' " Simple.
Average home attendance last year was 12,527, doggone good for a town with only 15,300 residents. The first year the football budget was $180,000; this year it is $820,000. Says athletic director Bucky Wagner, "Many I-A schools waste as much money in a year as we run our program on." Indeed, the uniform pants still have no stripes, because that would increase the cost $4 per pair. A huge boost was the more than $1.35 million contributed by Allen Paulson, CEO of Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. in Savannah. That earned him his name on perhaps the finest small college stadium in the land.
Next year Georgia Southern plans to spend $300,000 to put up lights—just in case TV might want to catch the Eagles in night flight. The booster club now numbers 1,282, an increase of 1,282 over 1981. That year football raised $120,000; this year it raised $509,624.62.
These days, Russell—who makes about $60,000 a year plus another $300 a week for an in-season TV show and gets a $2,700 housing allowance plus a Chevy Impala—is busy letting his players know what he expects them to give. He has sent calendars, for example, that offer suggestions for each day: "The stars indicate you should take a trip today—like two miles in 13 minutes."
So, Erk, everyone else looks at you and sees a genius. How do you look at yourself?
"Mostly in a mirror," he says.