Courtesy of George Mason University Sports Information
FAIRFAX, VA — George Mason assistant vice president/director of athletics Tom O’Connor announced that Joe Russell has been hired as the Patriots head wrestling coach. Russell leaves one of the nation’s top wrestling programs at Minnesota to become the ninth head coach in Mason history, entering its 40th season.
“Joe’s coaching resume is outstanding, having coached at a perennial powerhouse program at Minnesota and at the national level, but he brings more than the ability to coach a student-athlete on the mat,” said O’Connor. “He is a person of high character and the type of person we are excited about having associated with the wrestling program and Mason athletics.”
“I am humbled and honored to be chosen to lead the wrestling program at George Mason University,” said Joe Russell. “I want to thank Tom O’Connor for recognizing my passion for the sport and for coaching and the opportunity to build a program that is successful on and off the mat for numerous generations. As the caretaker of a Division 1 program, I will work hard to build stability, pride, and longevity. It is an awesome responsibility.”
Russell has assisted in coaching three NCAA championship teams, 11 individual national champions, six Big Ten title teams, 31 individual conference champions and 84 All-America honorees since joining the University of Minnesota wrestling staff in 1995. As the leader of the Golden Gophers’ recruiting efforts, Russell established Minnesota’s place among the nation’s elite. He leaves the program after 17 years on the bench as an assistant, the last four as head assistant coach.
“The search committee was extremely impressed with Joe Russell throughout the entire process,” said Dan Wotring, wrestling alumni and member of the search committee. “His experience is unmatched as a longtime assistant at one of the best programs in the country, as a top recruiter, as a leader for the student-athletes he has coached, and the ability to bring together alumni and run all phases of a program. I want to congratulate Tom O’Connor on putting together a great process and making a great decision; the future is bright for Mason wrestling.”
In June of 2007, Russell was presented with the Medal of Courage from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. The Medal of Courage is presented annually to a wrestler or former wrestler who has overcome what appeared to be insurmountable challenges, which may be physical, mental or other handicaps making his or her achievements all the more uplifting. In 1985, a horrifying motorcycle accident left Russell partially paralyzed on the left side of his body. He spent three weeks in a drug-induced coma and the process of recovery was long and grueling, but he recovered fully and has not let his physical challenges stop him from achieving greatness both on and off the mat.
Russell also coached with the Minnesota Storm Junior World and University teams. Under Russell’s tutelage, the Storm won four FILA Junior National Team Championships in both freestyle and Greco-Roman since 1996, with their last freestyle title coming in 2004. He also led the Storm to a second-place finish at the 1997, ’98 and ’99 University National Championships.
An ambassador of the sport, Russell conducted a week-long clinic for enlisted personnel and their children at the U.S. Naval Base in Sasebo, Japan in 2005. Russell’s coaching career has also featured a number of stints with the U.S. national teams. In the summer of 2004, he coached the U.S. Junior Team at the Junior Pan American Championships in Venezuela. Russell was joined by three former Golden Gophers – Roger Kish, Mack Reiter and C.P. Schlatter. All three earned gold medals and Reiter was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. Russell also coached Team USA at the Junior Pan American Championships in 2002.
In 1998, he served as the coach of Team USA in a world freestyle dual versus Germany. Also in 1998, he was selected as the coach for the USA Wrestling Tour de Monde team in Hungary. Russell coached Team USA in another world freestyle dual meet versus Cuba in 1999 and went on to coach the U.S. 17-and-under team at the Cadet World Championships in August 1999 in Denmark. For his efforts, Russell was voted the 1999 USA Wrestling Person of the Year for the University and FILA Junior Age Divisions. In the summer of 2000, Russell was selected to coach the U.S. Junior Team at the 2000 Pan American Championships in Peru. In 2001, he coached a team of USA All-Stars in the First Annual Utah Greco-Roman Challenge in Sandy, Utah.
A graduate of Gresham High School in Gresham, Ore., Russell was a double champion at the Junior Nationals as a junior in high school. He was an Espoir National Champion and place winner at the Espoir World Championships. Russell claimed several youth national titles as well as two World School Boy championships. He also won two state high school titles in Oregon, compiling a 90-1 overall record.
Russell wrestled at Minnesota from 1988-92. In his senior season, he served as team captain, was named to the Academic All-Big Ten team and was the winner of the team’s Dean Fraser Most Courageous Wrestler award. He also competed for Athletes in Action on a summer tour to Australia and New Zealand.
Russell earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1992 and completed his juris doctorate in the spring of 1995. He is a licensed attorney and completed his master in sports management in December of 2006. Also in his time as Minnesota, he has taught within the kinesiology department as well as directed studies courses.
Russell and his wife, Sadie, have a son Taft.