NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Fred Russell, sports editor emeritus of the defunct Nashville Banner who once helped Bear Bryant get an assistant's job, died at 96.

Russell died Sunday night at the Richland Place nursing home, friends and the nursing home said.

Russell spent more than 50 years at the Banner, which ceased publication in 1998. He covered every Olympics between 1960 and 1980. During his career, he interviewed Muhammad Ali, Ty Cobb, Jack Dempsey, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and many others.

Russell was a practicing attorney when he decided to try his hand at sports writing, taking a job at the Banner for $6 a week in 1929.

He retired in 1980 after 50 years as sports editor. Russell was elected to the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame in 1988 and given the Red Smith Award by The Associated Press Sports Editors in 1984.

The U.S. Olympic Committee gave him its Distinguished Journalism Award in 1976.

Russell had been sports editor at the Banner for 10 years when he recommended Bryant, a friend, to Vanderbilt coach Red Sanders for a job as an assistant. It was Bryant's first coaching job away from Alabama. Bryant later became head coach at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M before returning to Alabama and becoming one of football's coaching greats.

Russell became nationally known for his ``Pigskin Preview'' that ran in the Saturday Evening Post between 1949 and 1962. His picks of college football's best teams and players earned him the nickname ``Fearless Fred.''

His advice to would-be sports writers in his semi-autobiography ``Bury Me in an Old Press Box'' advised being fair, having fun and above all not taking yourself seriously.

The press box at the Vanderbilt's baseball stadium in Nashville was named in his honor in 2002.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday.