A strong believer in up-tempo workouts, he took the Red Wolves to another level in just one season in Jonesboro and made Malzahn a believe in what he does.
It didn't take long for Auburn's current players to see a different side of Russell once he was in charge. However, it was a new day indeed for senior fullback Jay Prosch. Known as a workout warrior for his performance in the weight room since coming out of UMS-Wright in Mobile, the road-grader for the Tigers in the running game said he knew things were going to be different this year after just one day of workouts with his new coach.
Russell said he is appreciative of those thoughts, but insists the recognition goes to the players for what they have done in the last 12 months.
Now just one win away from winning the national championship as the Tigers face Florida State for the BCS National Championship in the Rose Bowl Monday night, Russell said he is just enjoying watching a group of guys reap the benefits of a lot of hard work.
"That's great to hear, but all the credit goes to those guys," Russell said of Prosch's comments. "We talked about what they wanted out of the program. We're going to push them every day regardless, but that's when we came in we asked ‘how good do you guys want to be and what are you willing to do to get there?' They have taken the bull by the horns and really taken charge of that. Them taking that program over and setting that culture, that has been the most gratifying thing.
"I think it's great just because of the way we have seen the kids change and progress and really buy into the system and the program and the culture we're trying to create," Russell added. "That's the neatest thing to me, just the gradual progression from when we got here last January all the way to right now."
It's a change that Malzahn talked about when hiring Russell. Seeing what he had done with his Arkansas State team, the first-year Auburn head coach saw something special in that one year and said so when he hired Russell last December.
"He is on the cutting edge in the strength and conditioning profession, and is a high-tempo, high-energy guy who fits well with our philosophy," Malzahn said at the time. "He's worked with very successful football programs and knows what it takes to get the most out of his athletes."
While most would assume that Russell tailored his workouts to fit Malzahn's up-tempo style at Arkansas State that's not the case. A believer in pushing guys above and beyond what they believe they can do, Russell said it all starts with effort and that fits any scheme.
"That's just the way I would train guys regardless," Russell said. "It fits well with the system, but I feel like you need a get-after-it mentality and a sense of urgency. You've got to create an industrious-type of vibe anytime you train in order to get better. You're not just going to come in and go through the motions to get better.
"They say that not giving effort in a workout is the same as not showing up and I wholeheartedly believe that. That's just the way I believe you need to get after it no matter what system you're running. It just happens to fit very well with Coach Malzahn's system."
Not only has his style of strength and conditioning been a perfect fit for the system, but it has also been welcomed with open arms by the veterans on this team. Hungry to win and get back on top, the veterans on the 2013 Auburn team bought in almost immediately to a tougher and more rigorous training schedule that included more lifting even during the season. Russell said because of that it was a very smooth transition for him and the guys and helped make the year a huge success.
"It has been huge because those guys are more mature," Russell said. "I had a previous relationship with a lot of those guys before so they knew a little bit of what I was about. Obviously it's different right now being where I'm at in the head chair, but they were huge. Those guys are great guys and you could tell last year really hurt them. They were ready to get to work and it's been good."
Talking about winning the fourth quarter going all the way back to spring practice, Auburn's determination to control the final 15 minutes has been perhaps the biggest reason why the Tigers are 60 minutes away from another title. Allowing just 58 total points in the final period, an average of just 4.46 points per game, with 21 of those coming in one game to Georgia, the Tigers have shown they mean business when the game is on the line. Now with one final shot to prove it again, Russell said his guys are prepared to do it again.
"Every program across the country talks about the fourth quarter," Russell said. "We talk about it just like every other program, but they have really taken a lot of pride in it. We've done something at least once or twice a week since last January where we are hammering that fourth quarter and all that. They know they're prepared and the confidence they've gained through their training shows. It's a testament to them and their work ethic."