Michelle Russell was unsure if she wanted to get right back into coaching.
About a month after Russell was let go in March by Dundee-Crown as the girls varsity basketball coach, she was approached by Huntley coach Steve Raethz. They spent an hour talking about the opportunity for Russell to join Huntley’s program and she was intrigued by their similarities in coaching style and philosophies.
Still, Russell mulled over the offer for a couple of weeks, before deciding, “What the heck, I’ll take a shot.” She hasn’t regretted the decision.
“I spent the summer getting to know the girls and other coaches and it felt like a very good fit for me,” Russell said. “I really wasn’t 100 percent sure about it (initially), but I didn’t really want to not coach. I’m thankful [Raethz] did contact me.”
Russell coaches the Red Raiders’ sophomore team and has guided them to a 12-5 record this season. Raethz said he always admired how Russell got her players to compete at D-C.
“She does a great job teaching the game and she has a wealth of experience as a player and coach,” Raethz said. “She has a great repoire with the kids. ... I thought she’d be a great addition to our staff and she’s done a great job so far.”
It’s been an adjustment going from leading a program at D-C, where she spent five seasons at her alma mater, to preparing a sophomore team for varsity. The biggest change has been taking on a more behind-the-scenes role by coaching sophomores instead of being the “main event,” Russell said.
“But, in the end, you’re teaching girls and you’re there to be a good role model for them and teach them about life,” Russell said. “That’s what coaching is all about, helping them become better people.”
Despite the new job, it still was an odd situation for Russell when Huntley played at D-C in early December. The Red Raiders again play the Chargers on Jan. 28 at home.
“It was uncomfortable to be there and play against my old players,” said Russell, who joins Raethz and assistant coach Paul Leiterman on the bench during varsity games. “I didn’t really like to do that, but it’s part of the job, so I have to. I didn’t want to coach against them, but that’s the way it is.”
As Huntley’s sophomore team has gotten to know Russell, the respect is there for a coach who still is D-C’s all-time leading scorer. Her team had a chance to see her name on the record board when Huntley played in a summer league at D-C.
The work Russell accomplished in turning the Chargers from a two-win team in her first season into a second-place finish in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division three years later stood out to Raethz.
“I went into it blind and with an open mind,” Russell said of the Huntley job. “I just took it for what it was. Obviously. I miss the girls at Dundee-Crown. I’ve known some of them for years and years growing up, so I miss that aspect and some of the parents. But these (Huntley) girls are great.”