Courtesy Middlebury Sports Information
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Athletics is sad to announce the death of longtime coach and administrator Russ Reilly, who passed away Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Reilly worked full time for the Middlebury College Athletics Department for 29 years. In the year before his retirement, he returned to coaching men’s basketball–as a volunteer assistant–and continued in this role for the last 13 seasons.
“Russ was a pillar of the College and local communities because of his huge heart and equally big smile and laugh,” said Director of Athletics Erin Quinn. “He set the standard for our department with his integrity and ethics as a coach and administrator, and always led with a sense of humor. It has been a blessing that after his retirement he was still actively engaged with us in many roles, including assistant men’s basketball coach, golf course employee, member of the Hall of Fame selection committee, and, of course, as the PA announcer with the iconic voice of Middlebury football. Russ was beloved and will be missed.”
Reilly arrived at Middlebury in the fall of 1977. He served one year as an assistant men’s basketball coach before taking over as head coach for the next 19 seasons. In 1988, Reilly’s peers selected him as the NABC Northeast District and UPI New England Division III Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year after the Panthers received the Most Improved Team Award. He was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He also served as the women’s soccer and men’s golf coach.
Reilly took over as the department’s director in July of 1997, following the retirement of G. Thomas Lawson. During his tenure, Middlebury expanded its athletics facilities significantly by adding Kenyon Arena, Kohn Field, and a softball diamond. The College also renovated the fitness center, Pepin Gymnasium, Duke Nelson Recreational Center, and the Bubble (later replaced by the Virtue Field House).
When Reilly retired in 2006, then president Ronald D. Liebowitz said, “Russ Reilly has been the understated, but essential, force in our program, responsible for setting the tone that defines the values we try to impart to our student-athletes: discipline, dedication, determination, teamwork, personal growth, and having fun along the way. In addition, he is, simply put, a terrific guy.”
The College enjoyed tremendous success during his tenure as director of athletics, capturing 22 National Championships and 35 NESCAC Championships. Reilly also served on numerous NESCAC and NCAA committees.
“Russ’s insistence that Middlebury’s women student-athletes be allowed the same opportunities as their male counterparts connects directly to the success of our women’s teams today,” said longtime former coach and administrator Missy Foote. “He was a fair, kind, and fun athletic director and colleague and we will miss his guidance and leadership.”
Reilly was also a committed member of the Middlebury community, coordinating the United Way golf tournament from 1986 to 1996 and serving on the organization’s board of directors for several years. His longtime relationship with Butch Varno, a local citizen with cerebral palsy, was highlighted in an Emmy Award–winning feature on ESPN in 2003.
Reilly was a graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where he played four years of basketball. Upon graduation in the spring of 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Reilly attended Boston University to work on his master’s degree in physical education. While at BU, Reilly served as an assistant men’s basketball and baseball coach. He obtained his master’s degree in the spring of 1968 and then taught junior high school science for one year in Natick, Massachusetts. He returned to his alma mater in the fall of 1969 to serve as an assistant men’s basketball coach for eight years. In addition to his basketball coaching duties, he also served as the head athletics trainer as well as the director of the Bates intramural program.
“Russ had a tremendous impact on the Middlebury College community and was the kindest person I’ve ever known,” said current men’s basketball coach Jeff Brown. “His love of his family and all things Middlebury serves as an example for all the colleagues and students that he impacted during his 40-plus years on campus.”
He is survived by his wife, Jane Reilly of New Haven; his three daughters and their husbands, Jennifer and Michael Lukela of Ann Arbor, Mich., Jody and Kevin Soja of Lakeville, Conn., and Lindsay and Eamonn Bradley of Haverhill, Mass.; and his grandchildren, Henry and Nicholas Lukela, Russell and William Soja, and Connor, Padraig, Ashlinn, and Kaetlyn Bradley.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Russell L. Reilly Scholarship Fund at Middlebury College (Middlebury Office of Advancement, 700 Exchange Street, Middlebury, VT 05753) or the MPN Research Network (c/o Director of Development, MPN Research Foundation, 180 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1870, Chicago, IL 60601). The family is planning a celebration of his life that will take place in Middlebury in the fall. More information about the celebration will be provided when it is available.