Family of celebrated coach pays tribute after COVID-19 death

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Coach Phill Russell photo courtesy Erin Hooley Standard Examiner via AP

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — One can’t walk into the Ogden High School gymnasium or walk the nearby hallway without seeing how much of an impact Phil Russell had at the school.

The basketball court bears his name, the trophy cabinet in the aforementioned hallway is filled with trophies, basketball nets, balls and photos from Russell’s time as the girls basketball coach at the school, the Ogden Standard-Examiner reported.

“Of all the things that my dad accomplished, all the awards, all the wins all the things that he did to be successful in his career, nothing ever came before his family — specifically, my brother and I,” Mike Russell said during Phil’s funeral ceremony last week.

Phil Russell was memorialized Friday, Nov. 6, in a small, private ceremony in front of family and some friends. The family hopes to hold a larger celebration of life once it’s safe to do so in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He would’ve strung this whole ordeal out for a week if he could’ve and to be honest, he deserves that type of sendoff,” Matt Russell, Phil’s oldest son, said during the ceremony, which was streamed on the internet.

Phil’s sons, Matt and Mike, spoke at length during the ceremony and told stories about their father growing up, how he would always make time for them to go to the gym and shoot hoops or whatever they wanted to do.

This was despite Phil working multiple jobs so that his wife Carolyn wouldn’t have to. His favorite part-time job was working at the Lorin Farr Pool in Ogden, that “darn pool,” Matt Russel said with a smile.

“As busy as he was, he always made time. Anyone here knows my dad he didn’t do anything halfway,” Mike Russell said.

Every story relayed just how much their dad cared about them.

Mike told a story from when was about 10 or 11 years old at an Ogden High football game, throwing a football behind the stadium with a friend.

Some other kids took the football. Phil was in the middle of coaching a game.

“So I walked up on the sideline in the middle of the game and tugged on his shirt and said ‘these kids took my ball.’ It was a turbo football, probably $8,” Mike said.

Phil didn’t hesitate, Mike said, took his headset off and asked where the kids were. They walked to the back of the stadium and, “you can all use your imaginations of what he said to those boys. We got our ball back,” Mike said.

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