What started off as helping out coach his younger brother’s baseball team ended up turning into a Hall of Fame basketball coaching career.
Aric Russell wasn’t sure he wanted to be a coach until he did his younger brother a favor. It was a youth knothole baseball league in which they needed a coach, so Russell stepped up.
“They lost a lot of games and then we got into contention. I really got into it, figured things out and that’s when I knew I wanted to get into coaching. From the strategizing to figuring out teams weaknesses, I loved it,” Russell said.
After 25 years coaching the high school game, Russell announced his retirement last week as Campbell County’s boys basketball coach. He finishes with 459 wins coaching boys and girls. While he was unsure even at the end of the season when Campbell County lost to Mason County in the 10th Region tournament semifinals, he reflected back, had conversations with his family and then knew.
“It sounds kind of cliché, but I just knew it was time. I always had older coaches tell me I’d know when that time came and it is now. The grind of everything, there’s so much more to coaching then games and practices. Coaches need to put their all into other things outside of just coaching these kids,” Russell said.
The decision still didn’t come as an easy one.
“It was hard, you do something for 25 years and it’s just always a tough decision to make. You don’t want the kids coming back thinking you’re leaving them, but I told them Campbell County is bigger than any one person and they’ll keep on rolling,” Russell said.
He got his start on the basketball side of coaching at Newport Middle School, coaching the seventh grade team. He then went on to Campbell County and coached the freshman team on Danny Sullivan’s staff. While Campbell County is where he wanted to be, he knew he had to go elsewhere to land a head coaching position at the high school ranks.
“They had so many coaches on staff I knew I had to start somewhere else,” Russell said.
So Russell went back to Newport to coach the freshman team on Mark Krebs’ staff before eventually taking the Newport girls head coaching position. He coached the girls team for three seasons, winning 51 games in the three-year span.
“I really learned things as a coach then. You really have to run things and plan things out in situations where boys sometimes can do things on their own and create their own shots. Not saying the girls can’t do that, but there’s a little more to it in finding open shots. You can’t run the same thing every year and you have to adapt to what you have. I felt like I learned that early,” Russell said.
Russell then coached the Newport boys from 2001-10, winning 124 games in his tenure with the Wildcats and leading them to the promise land in 2010 when they won the Ninth Region title for the first time in 58 years. Russell helped build the Newport program up, enduring seven seasons of .500 or worse records and failing to make the region tournament in his first eight years. But the ninth year the Wildcats struck lightning in a bottle, shocking Holmes in the Ninth Region championship and making it to Rupp Arena for the Sweet 16.
Then a big decision came. Head back to his alma mater to coach the Camels or stay where he built things up?
“It was really hard to leave Newport. Really went back and forth on if I was going to leave. My house is less than a mile away from Campbell County. My kids were younger and started to come through the system. Knew I could coach my son and be with my daughter. It was a tough decision, but a family decision to make that move,” Russell said.
He took over at Campbell County in 2010 and coached the Camels the last 13 seasons. Things didn’t take as long to get going at Campbell County. He guided the Camels to a 37th District title in his second season and then won 10 more consecutively from 2014-23. Four 10th Region titles came with that, including a state semifinal appearance in 2019.
“We had players that bought into what we were teaching and put the team above all the other things. Having my assistants on staff that were with me pretty much the whole time helped. Everyone had their roles on the coaching staff and how to relay things. Older players would then relay it to the younger players. That culture constituted in winning,” Russell said.
He got to coach his son Jesse and see his daughter Hope both make state tournaments, Jesse in basketball in 2018 and Hope in volleyball in 2018 and ’19.
“If it wasn’t for Jesse, I may have got out of the game even sooner. Being able to spend that time with him and the moment I’ll never forget is when he was in the starting lineup at Rupp Arena and I was standing behind him and whispered in his ear and just let him know how proud of him I was. Being able to spend that moment with my son was really neat. You don’t always get those opportunities,” Russell said.
Russell won 408 games as a boys coach, 51 as a girls coach. The 284 wins at Campbell County is the most in program history and the 459 wins in total is third most in Northern Kentucky history, trailing only St. Henry’s Dave Faust and former St. Thomas and Highlands coach Ken Shields.
“Basketball is not easy and doing it the right way and you have to put a lot of time into it. Now it’s time to let someone else do it,” Russell said.