Russell competed in every swimming event except one as a member of the swimming team at UWM. A three-year letterwinner, he held two school records at the time of his graduation. After two years of service in the United States Navy, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, Russell returned to UWM to complete his master's degree and begin his coaching career.
In 11 years as an assistant coach and head coach for the men's and women's swimming and diving programs, Russell's teams rewrote the UWM record books, breaking school records in every event but one. During his career at UWM, Russell coached 46 All-Americans and had a combined dual meet record of 104-32. Russell played an active role in establishing UWM's first-ever women's swimming and diving program. In 1986 he was named the NAIA National Women's Coach of the Year, to date the only coach in UWM history in any sport to be so honored. Russell also won numerous district, regional and conference coach of the year honors.