Russell, 46, replaces Jim Tracy, who was fired Oct. 5 after two years as the Pirates' manager. The team was 135-189 under Tracy and has had 15 consecutive losing seasons.
Russell was the manager of the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies for the past two seasons. He was third base coach and catching instructor for the Pirates from 2003 to 2005.
"I am proud to be the new manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates," Russell said. "I felt this was an ideal opportunity for me. It was very clear to me that the new leadership of this organization shares a vision of excellence and has made a commitment to build a winning organization.
"It is my responsibility to restore the culture of pride and passion in the clubhouse. We will not be outworked or out-prepared."
Russell played in 448 big-league games with Philadelphia (1984-88), Atlanta (1988) and Texas (1990-93) and caught Nolan Ryan's sixth career no-hitter on June 11, 1990.