The Carolina Panthers dipped into the college ranks to find their linebackers coach.
Steve Russ, Air Force’s defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, will take over one of the Panthers’ deepest position groups, a league source told the Observer on Friday.
Russ, 45, who played at Air Force in the 1990s, has spent the past six years at his alma mater. He began his full-time coaching career in 2001 at Ohio University, where he worked with Panthers defensive coordinator Eric Washington.
Washington was promoted this week after Steve Wilks left to become the Arizona Cardinals head coach. Russ replaces Al Holcomb, who accompanied Wilks to Arizona as the Cardinals defensive coordinator.
Russ was Air Force’s defensive coordinator the past four years and oversaw a big improvement during his first season in 2014 when the Falcons allowed nearly 16 points and 100 rushing yards fewer than they did in 2013.
Air Force was 66th among 129 FBS school last season in total defense, but ranked 10th against the pass (171.1 yards allowed per game).
Russ also has had stops at Syracuse and Wake Forest, where he worked under Jim Grobe.
Russ, an all-conference linebacker at Air Force, was a seventh-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 1995.
After two years of active military service, Russ joined the Broncos and played in 24 games over four seasons. He was part of their 1997 and ‘98 Super Bowl-winning teams.
After hiring former Seattle Seahawks assistant special teams coach Heath Farwell this week in the same role, Panthers coach Ron Rivera still has openings for a defensive line coach (Washington’s former role) and assistant offensive line coach.