Brian Russell Named to Fighting Illini Athletics Staff as Head of Academic Services and Student-Athlete Development

Brings Extensive Experience from Tennessee to Illinois


CHAMPAIGN, IL – Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman today announced Dr. Brian Russell as Associate Athletics Director for Academic Services and Student-Athlete Development.


Dr. Russell joins the Illinois staff following a 15-year stint at the University of Tennessee, where he was serving as the Director of Student-Athlete Academic Support Services, which included oversight of academic counseling and day-to-day academic services for all Tennessee student-athletes. Additionally, Russell was responsible for providing leadership and development to the associate and assistant directors, academic counselors and graduate assistants within the Thornton Center on the UT campus.


“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Brian Russell, his wife Jenna, and their two children to the Fighting Illini family,” Whitman said. “Brian quickly separated himself from a talented applicant pool through his depth of experience and the many wonderful conversations we had with current and former colleagues, all of whom raved about his leadership and strategic thinking. It is a credit to our staff and student-athletes and the longstanding culture of academic excellence that exists at the University of Illinois that we were able to attract someone of Brian’s caliber from another respected program in the Autonomy 5. We look forward to Brian playing a prominent role as we look to take our academic services and student-athlete development operation to an entirely new level.”


As Associate Director, Russell led the football division that had oversight of academic support and development of football student-athletes, and as assistant director, he oversaw the Programs and Services area including the Thornton Center’s tutorial assistance program, the Maximizing Academic Potential (MAP) program for student-athletes with learning, psychological and physical disabilities, the Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) program for at-risk student-athletes, the math and writing labs, programming for high achievers, and the PREGAME summer bridge program for new student-athletes.


“I am incredibly honored to join Josh Whitman’s team as the Associate Athletics Director for Academic Services & Student-Athlete Development,” Russell said. “I was blown away by the culture Josh and his leadership team have created within the department and have been impressed by the high-level of success Illini student-athletes have consistently maintained in the classroom. It is immediately evident that the faculty, staff, administrators, coaches and student-athletes at the University of Illinois have made academic success a priority within the student-athlete experience.


“The staff within Academic Services & Student-Athlete Development will be innovative as we dedicate energy and effort daily to positively impact the lives of Illini student-athletes,” Russell continued. “We will challenge Illini student-athletes to excel in the classroom, compete at the highest level in sport, and prepare diligently for their post-graduate careers. No question, our work in Academic Services & Student-Athlete Development is critical in all facets of our mission to Unify, Develop, Inspire, and Achieve. The University of Illinois is a world-class institution and an exceptional place. My family and I are thrilled to make the Champaign-Urbana area our home for years to come. I’m thankful to Josh Whitman and his leadership team for the opportunity to join the Illini Family.”


A native of Lakeville, Indiana, Dr. Russell holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, a master’s degree in college student personnel and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in socio-cultural studies in sport from the University of Tennessee. His dissertation involved research into the academic and athletic adjustment to college of first-year student-athletes. He is a member of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics (N4A) and holds leadership positions within the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) including serving as Immediate Past Chair of the NCAA Advisory Board.