Services are pending for former St. Thomas cross country and track and field coach Larry “Doc” Russ, who passed away early Thursday.
Russ touched many lives in a 24-year Tommie career as athletic trainer and men’s track and cross country head coach. His cross country teams had 11 top-seven national finishes, highlighted by winning the 1984 and 1986 NCAA Division III championships. His runners also won 14 conference team crowns, including 10 in a row from 1984-1993.
Among his former standout runners are current St. Thomas cross country coaches Joe Sweeney (women) and Pete Wareham (men).
“I can’t say enough about the kind of person Doc was,” Wareham said. “I know his former runners are very grateful for his influence. He is a true hall of fame coach and true hall of fame person.”
In retirement, Russ returned regularly to campus for track meets, and softball, football and basketball games, and stopped in O’Shaughnessy Hall or the AARC to visit former colleagues. He loved his daily exercise routine and often walked to UST from his home in St. Paul’s Highland neighborhood.
UST athletics director Steve Fritz said Russ’ sincere, friendly personality helped him connect with his student-athletes.
“I will always look at Doc as one of those great people who spanned many generations of St. Thomas,” Fritz said. “He came back to St. Thomas when I was a student to start a second career. He stayed on as our first athletic trainer and then moved into coaching track and cross country. Those who knew Doc were loyal to him because he was loyal to them. He brought so much wholesomeness to the athletic profession and to St. Thomas. He will be dearly missed by so many of us.”
Among Russ’ survivors are his daughter, Cynthia, and son-in-law Steve; son Michael; son David and daughter-in-law JoAnn; and seven step-children. His second wife, Marie Fourre Russ, who worked at Campus Ministry at UST from 1978-94, died in October 2010 at age 85.
Russ was inducted into the St. Thomas Athletics Hall of Fame in 1986, and into the USA Track and Field Minnesota Hall of Fame in 2010.
One of the wise moves that then St. Thomas athletic director Frank Mach made in his early years came in 1969 when he hired Russ to coach both teams. A practicing chiropractor with limited coaching experience, Russ gradually built UST into a national cross country power until he retired in 1993. He coached track and field until 1980, when Mark Dienhart replaced him. The Tommie programs made huge strides in the 1970s under Russ.
His 1984 and 1986 men’s cross country teams won the NCAA Division III team championships, and his 1985 team won the National Catholic Championship meet by outrunning Division I schools Villanova and Notre Dame. Russ coached 23 All-Americans, led by 1982 national champion Nic Manciu. Russ’ teams qualified for nationals 17 out of 18 years from 1975 to 1992, and placed in the D-III top seven 11 times from 1978 to 1990.
In MIAC competition, Russ’ 1974 team won St. Thomas’ first conference title in 29 seasons. The Tommies won the conference again from 1978 to 1980, and later captured 10 in a row from 1984 to 1993. Russ had five MIAC individual champions.
“Winning a national championship takes your breath away,” Russ said. “What those kids did for the school was something. You remember the day you were looking at the strong MIAC teams like Hamline, Macalester and St. John’s and wondering how you’re ever going to break into that company. It took a while but we started getting a few of the elite runners; then it just took off from there. If you get the horses, they can make a coach look pretty good.”
Then Governor Arnie Carlson proclaimed Jan. 30, 1993, as Dr. Larry “Doc” Russ Day upon his retirement.