Bob Russell takes over Eagle boys’ soccer team

BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School administrators did not have to look far and wide for a new program head when boys’ soccer coach Mike Corey stepped down last winter after leading the program since 1995.
New varsity coach Bob Russell, a Mount Abe middle school social studies teacher, was not a surprising choice: He had coached the Eagle boys’ junior varsity team for several years, and before then the 8th-grade boys for several more.
Combined, Russell’s tenures with those teams track back to 2006, when the former South Burlington High School soccer player, now 40, first came to the Bristol school.
Still, Russell said at least the timing was a surprise. After all, Corey’s team a year ago cranked out another 10-win season, one that included a home playoff victory.
And Russell said he does not think of himself as replacing a coach who led his team to Division II titles in 2004 and 2013 and to home playoff games in all but five of 23 seasons.
“I don’t think I can concern myself with replacing Mike as much as just taking over. He had talked to me about taking over for a while, and I had thought it was mostly talk until all of a sudden it was, ‘I’m going to do it,’” Russell said.
Certainly, Russell has paid a few dues on the way to his first varsity head coaching job. After graduating from the University of Vermont, where he played club soccer, Russell worked as an instructional assistant at Colchester High. There he also coached middle school soccer and assisted the varsity baseball program. At Mount Abe Russell has also coached middle school baseball and basketball.
Why coach?
“When you stop playing you still want to be part of a sport. And after you’ve coached a little bit you come to love the relationships that you can have with those players,” Russell said. “It’s different than you have with your teammates, but it’s still an uplifting and enjoyable experience.”
It’s probably not a surprise that Russell’s varsity job came in soccer. He admitted even his wife, who played on championship soccer teams at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, at times laughs at Russell’s fixation on soccer.
“I’m a bit soccer-obsessed,” he said. “It keeps you young in that you’re constantly thinking about different elements of the game to help support those boys.”
In the past few years Russell has coached most of the athletes on the 2018 Eagle roster, with the exception of a few players who previously attended Ripton’s North Branch School and went straight to varsity.
There will be more continuity between the old and new regimes.
“Mike and I have been in pretty close contact the past couple years, just about the way we structure and organize our practices, what kind of activities we use,” Russell said. “As far as style of play, we’ve had a lot of discussions about style of play, but we really haven’t nailed down, ‘This is Mount Abe’s style of play.’ I think that has to flex with the personnel you have as well.”
NEW MOUNT ABRAHAM Union High School varsity boys’ soccer coach Bob Russell starts a practice Monday afternoon. One tradition Russell has preserved for the team is listing team goals on the back of warm-up shirts.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Russell is also asking his players to be flexible, especially considering most of the team’s starting defenders graduated, while also seeking out their preferences on what roles they would like to fill on the field.
“Coming into it, I did present every returning player the opportunity to meet with me. I put out a survey so they could give me feedback about what were their goals, what kind of supports do they need from me, where do they see themselves within the group, are they comfortable with adjusting that vision of themselves and so on. I was able to start the conversation,” he said.
While carving out his own leadership style, Russell has also sought out what elements of the program players would like to preserve.
“I’m just trying to, like with the survey, identify things that these players are used to and they really, really want to hold onto. There are some great traditions that he (Corey) built, and I’m more than willing to maintain those traditions,” Russell said. “But I’m in no way trying to be Mike. I could in      no way do that. He’s just such an incredible figure. I was able to learn from him for a few years, and I’m trying to do this opportunity to the best of my abilities.”
One tradition in particular will remain: One word and concept that Corey said his athletes always treasured popped up in the same way it has for years.
“One of the traditions that was clear that needed to remain was having our warm-up shirts that have four words that represent us. And you know, being around the program, Mike always spoke about the brotherhood piece,” Russell said. “But I never mentioned that word, and it was the first word mentioned by multiple players along the way. So you’ll see that at the bottom of our warm-ups again this year, along with drive, precision and commitment.”
At the same time Russell will not take for granted his players are all happy and buying into his leadership, and he will try to make sure they have the opportunity to let him know how they are feeling.
“I’m going to set up some feedback pretty soon where they can anonymously let me know anything, like this is not happening and it would be great if it were, or even tell me what they enjoy about any differences that I’ve instituted,” he said.
On the practice field Russell said he would be detail-oriented and prepared. 
“I’m just trying to provide them with plans each day that build on themselves, that start with, this is a skill that we need to develop and put into more game situations so that we can prepare to be as competitive as possible,” he said.
But Russell said he is just as concerned about the group dynamics about what he called an “amazing” group of supportive, “respectful, well intentioned guys.”
“I’m pretty comfortable with how things have gone so far. Once competition starts it will heighten some sort of anxieties or perception for some people, and I’m sure we’ll have to deal with that at the time,” he said. “But these guys seem like what is most important is their ability to be together and work together and just have everybody contributing and doing the best they can all the time.”
Russell joked the varsity job means “more emails” as well as greater expectations, but he is glad for the opportunity.
“It has been a successful program for a number of years. I’m just trying to maintain that commitment,” he said. “I’ve already expressed how much I enjoy being around soccer. So I’m able to enjoy the game that I love with these guys, that are just so fantastic, and I’m able to support these guys for this season and beyond.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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