By Angie Ledbetter
In a move that sent waves through the school, North Delta head football coach Richard Russo resigned Friday afternoon.
The resignation was unexpected by friends, assistant coaches and team members.
Russo, being the strong Christian that he is, said that he didn’t feel at peace about returning for the upcoming year at North Delta and took what he called “a leap of faith.”
“I feel like I am supposed to be somewhere else,” said Russo. “A lot of people, especially non-Christians, will have a hard time swallowing that, but that is the truth. You need to always, no matter what you do in life, pray about are you where you are suppose to be, and are you doing what you are suppose to be doing,” Russo continued.
“I really feel like maybe my coaching style and philosophy is better suited for the public school. I am 99 percent sure that I will be in the public school coaching.”
“Coach Russo did a lot of good things for the program and the young men in the program,” North Delta Headmaster John Howell Jr. said. “We are thankful for his two years of service at North Delta,” Howell added.
“After every season I just sit down and try to reflect,” said Russo. “I do a lot of praying and thinking to make sure I am still where God wants me and I can be used. At this time, I just feel like he is leading me back to some opportunities in the public school coaching ranks.”
“I just want to say thank you to North Delta for giving me my first head coaching opportunity,” Russo added. “It was a very thrilling ride. It has been very supportive. I think that it paid off.”
“Really after this first started the season was over, I did a lot of thinking and praying and talking to my wife,” he said. “The journey started then.”
Russo said there wasn’t any one thing that he could pinpoint about his final decision.
“I just didn’t feel at peace about returning this next year and I am looking forward to what God has in store for me,” he said.
“I am looking forward to deciding on which of these opportunities to go along with.”
”The decision was extremely hard,” said Russo.
Russo said that he told the football players on the junior high football team and the varsity football team together on Friday morning.
“I told the players how much that I appreciated them buying into the program, the philosophies, and their work ethic for the past two years,” said Russo. “I told both teams at the same time that they were champions and as long as they live, they will always be district champions of 2007 and nobody could ever take that away.”
Russo left after telling the players on Friday.
“I kind of left [Friday afternoon] because I really didn’t want to face anyone else there. It was a very hard thing to do,” Russo said.
“Coach Thomas and Coach Wilson both seemed disappointed,” Russo said. I can’t thank them enough for their time and efforts and for going through the trenches with me. It has been a fun ride with them. When I gave Mr. Howell my final resignation, I could tell that he was down as well,” he added.
Russo said he plans to teach for the rest of this semester at North Delta. “I definitely don’t want to leave them hanging by any stretch of imagination. They told me that when I do find another school for next fall in a coaching position, they will work with me and allow me to go through spring practice with them. They’re being really good to me.”
Russo said that his decision was a leap of faith knowing that he has one child and another one due in three months and as of right now, he has no job for August.
“I know that God will take care of us and there is a coaching position that I am meant to be at in the fall of 2008,” he said. “It’s all part of a master plan that I am suppose to be there and I am looking forward to new challenges.”
Russo came to North Delta School as head football coach in spring of 2006 from Bruce High School where he started his coaching career as an assistant in 2001. His first year as head coach at North Delta produced a winning season that took the team to the playoffs.
The following year, he had another winning regular season.
His 2007 junior varsity team went undefeated and won their district. His 2007 varsity team won their district also and made it to the second round of playoffs.
While at North Delta, Russo brought many changes to the football program. The biggest change and the most important one was that he brought Christianity into the football program. He said that he felt that not only was Christianity important in the football program, but in all areas of one’s life. He prayed with the players the very first day he met with them.
Russo was also very proud to have a team chaplain, Bro. Eric Payne, who gave the junior varsity and the varsity football players a 10-minute devotion every week after the pep rally to feed them spiritually. Russo said that he knew that he had the freedom to do that at North Delta and he chose to exercise it.
He also chose to attend church with the players three times a year. He did it at the beginning of the season, once when the playoffs started, and once during spring practice. Players from grades seven through 12 were invited.
Jim Tom Copeland, a freshman football player said it was a surprise to everybody. “We didn’t see it coming. He told us that he had prayed about it and he hoped that we would understand,” he said.
“We all know that he is a really good Christian. He felt like he needed to go somewhere else.”
”Everybody felt the same way,” Copeland added. “It was kind of like getting to know somebody really good and then they will not be there next year.
None of us talked to him about it. He told us that now wasn’t the time for questions and answers but he would be at the school until the end of the school year.”