Russ Sloan, former columnist and coach, honored by class of '69-'71

When a former college football coach (and past columnist for this paper) couldn't make another reunion, his players came to him. They brought some good news to share too.

Julie Garisto

Leesburg Daily Commercial

Published 11:12 a.m. ET Dec.22, 2023/Updated 4:10 p.m. ET Dec. 22, 2023

They were the heroes of their rural Midwest town, winning games and remaining friends for a lifetime, inspired by a coach whose leadership resonated beyond the university stadium.

Russ Sloan, a former Daily Commercial columnist and Northeast Missouri State University Bulldogs football coach in the 1960s and early 70s, has participated in reunions with his players from the classes of '69, ‘70 and '71. The school is now known as Truman State University.

Earlier this month, the former coach and his college ball players had their reunion at the HarborChase of Villages Crossing assisted living and memory care facility in Lady Lake.

The Villages facility is not the usual venue. Sloan is there because he's contending with an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease.

The guys made themselves at home in the elegantly decorated Villages Crossing dining room. "It was a great time," said Mike Dahlberg, a friend and former player of Sloan's. Dahlberg flew from Illinois to attend the reunion.

"We've had a real close bond, and we've been gathering as a team in the fall for many years," he added. "I was the only player visiting him over the last few years and I saw the digression. So, I pushed teammates to bring reunion to coach and, quickly, instead of usual St. Louis location." 

Class of 1969 Northeast Missouri State University Bulldogs. The school is now known as Truman State University.

Their reunions started in the late 1990s and have continued through the years. Many of the guys live in the St. Louis area, and they get together on a regular basis. Some would come from as far away as Europe.

A bit of good news arrived just in time for reunion that brought a smile to Sloan and added to the specialness of the occasion.

"We found out our team from that three-year period is being inducted into our university's hall of fame," Dahlberg shared. 

Sloan himself was inducted in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. "He is one of the winningest football coaches in the history of Missouri," his bio reads. "Sloan captured three straight conference championships in 1969, ’70 and ’71, leaving with an incredible .804-winning percentage, second only to the legendary Missouri Coach Don Faurot. Sloan also achieved success as Athletic Director at Fresno State University and Southeast Missouri State University."

In Sloan's later years, he got married and had three children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He lived in Leesburg and provided educational leadership as a director of business assistance at Lake-Sumter College, and he wrote a conservative weekly column for our newspaper until 2022.

In what he described as his "final Facebook post," Sloan wrote:

"In the past 14 years I have probably written over 700 Sunday Columns for our local paper [THE DAILY COMMERCIAL] and now my weekly Posts on my Face Book page. Approaching age 85 and battling a couple major health issues it is time for me to end my writings. Suffice it to say that I have an intense love of country and an admiration for our Founding Fathers who wrote our Constitution, the greatest governmental document in human history. I am deeply appreciative of the readership that I have and am humbled by many of their comments."

The Columbia, Missouri, native, was a standout player on both sides of the ball, lettering in 1958 and 1959 for Coach Dan Devine.

Russ Sloan's University of Missouri Class of 1961 portrait.

He was a first-team all-Big Eight Conference pick at end as a senior in 1959, when the University of Missouri Tigers went to the 1960 Orange Bowl and garnered a final national ranking of 18th. He was the only player on the coaches’ all-conference team to be a unanimous selection.

He also claimed honorable mention all-America honors from several outlets as a senior and was selected by legendary Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson to play in the Hula Bowl, leading the Tigers in receptions and receiving TDs in both 1958 and 1959, catching 16 passes for 211 yards and three TDs the first year, and following with 13 catches for 128 yards and three TDs in 1959.

He closed his Tigers career in the 1960 Orange Bowl against Georgia by catching six passes for 73 yards, which was an MU record at the time.

Sloan had professional opportunities with the Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers and New York Jets, but injuries prevented him from pursuing his football career.

His winning percentage there was second in school history only to Don Faurot. He later served as director of athletics at Southeast Missouri State and Fresno State before entering the private sector.

"He was also an accomplished baseball player who was offered a professional contract with the St. Louis Cardinals his senior year at Missouri," added Dahlberg.

Sloan always had one saying, Dahlberg said, that that stuck with him and his fellow players:

"What you give you have, and what you don't give is gone forever."