In an effort to replace former linebackers coach Al Holcomb (who left to be on Steve Wilk’s staff in Arizona), the Panthers have hired Air Force’s former defensive coordinator, Steve Russ.
Russ has been the DC at Air Force since the 2011 season. During that span, Air Force averaged 67th in total defense in the FBS (1-A), with their best finish being 34th a year ago in 2016.
Prior to his coaching career, Russ played linebacker for the Denver Broncos on their Super Bowl winning teams in the late 1990s, and was in the XFL during the league’s one season in 2001. Russ played linebacker at Air Force, graduating in 1995, where he was a four-year letterman, as well as a member of the All-WAC 2nd team in 1994.
The move is a curious one, if only for the absence of any strong connection to member(s) of the Panther’s coaching staff. Being that Ron Rivera is a former NFL linebacker, one might be inclined to trust his instincts when it comes to hiring a linebackers coach. Rivera, as well as newly minted Special Teams Coordinator Chase Blackburn, should help Russ make a smooth transition to NFL coaching. Russ having been a DC for seven years is an added bonus, given that Panthers new DC Eric Washington has little experience in that role.