Friday, April 06, 2007

The Measure of a Man – American Greatness, personified in Eddie Robinson

Eddie Robinson will forever be remembered as the giant of college football and especially among historically Black Colleges and Universities. He went to Grambling in 1941 and coached at the institution until his retirement in 1997. Robinson won 17 championships in his conference (SWAC), held the championship title 9 times for Black Colleges and creatively established a streak of 27 consecutive winning seasons 1960-1986. More importantly it was Eddie Robinson, much like what Jackie Robinson (the two men are not related), who served as the key catalyst in the integration of college and professional football.

"The University, state and nation have lost an extraordinarily great person. Truly one of a kind. It is impossible to measure fully the impact of Coach Robinson's life. As remarkable as his achievements in football were, his impact off the field was perhaps even more important. He touched, shaped and inspired the lives of so many. His sterling example and great positiveness influenced the whole nation. Coach Robinson was a great American. As long as Grambling State University exists, as long as football is played, as long as Americans remain patriotic, Coach Rob's spirit will live. That is a special kind of immortality only very special people can attain. We are deeply saddened by his passing and we will miss him. But we will celebrate his life with great joy and gratitude. Our hearts and best wishes are with his wife, Doris and his family," said Dr. Horace A. Judson, GSU President.

According to The African American Registry: Edward Gay Robinson was from Jackson, La., he attended Leland College (Baker, La.), where he played quarterback and led the team to a combined 18-1 record over the 1939 and 1940 seasons. During his final two years at Leland he also served as an assistant coach. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1941 and received a master's degree from the University of Iowa in 1954.

In 1941, Grambling (then known as Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute) hired Robinson to coach football and basketball, and teach physical education. In his first season he had no assistants and no budget for replacing equipment. He handled virtually everything himself, from mowing the field to taping players' ankles to writing accounts of the games for the local newspaper. The first season his team posted a record of 3-5. The next season, however, he guided the team to a perfect 8-0 record. Robinson's Grambling Tigers went on to have two more perfect seasons, capture 17 conference titles, and win several National Negro Championships.

Though ultra-successful, Coach Robinson has always remained humble, crediting his players, his family, his loving wife Doris, the media, and football fans from all over the world for making the name Eddie Robinson synonymous with the best that college football has to offer.

More than 200 of his players went on to compete in the National Football League, including NFL Hall of Fame members Willie Davis, Willie Brown, and Buck Buchanan. Robinson earned his 324th career victory; setting the record for wins, on Oct. 5, 1985; with a 27-7 defeat of Prairie View A&M in Dallas, Texas. He spent his entire head-coaching career at Grambling State University. At the end of the 1997 season, he retired with a lifetime record of 408-165-15.

Under Robinson, Grambling played games in New Orleans Superdome, drawing 76,000 spectators; Yankee Stadium in New York drawing 64,000: the Meadowlands, the Los Angeles Coliseum, Houston Astrodome, and Chicago's Soldier Field. In 1976 Grambling played Morgan State in Tokyo; this was the first time a regular season college game had been played on foreign soil.

Robinson received more awards than any other coach in history. Grambling named its new stadium after him. Both Grambling and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, named streets for him. Sports Illustrated had Eddie Robinson on its cover in 1985. The National Football Foundation gave him its award for Contribution to Amateur Football in 1992 and named him to College Football Hall of Fame in 1997. He is in another dozen halls of fame. Sports Network in 1987 started the Eddie Robinson Award for the coach of the year in Division I-AA. A Robinson Award for player of the year in black college football started in 1994. The Football Writers Association named the Robinson Award for national coach of the year in 1997.

Robinson served as president of the American Football Coaches Association and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. He talked about his career: "I'm proud that most of our players graduate. We begin each meeting with a talk about the importance of education. The most important thing in football is the boy who plays the game. You can't coach 'em unless you love 'em." Edward G. Robinson was born Feb. 13, 1919, in Jackson, Louisiana.

In 1942 his second season at Grambling there were 67 men in the college, and 33 were on the football squad. The Tigers had a 9-0 record; they were unbeaten, untied, and unscored on. The university had no team in the war years 1943-44. Robinson coached those years at Grambling High School. He returned to his college job in 1945. He received a bachelors degree from Leland, a master's from Iowa, an honorary doctor of laws from Louisiana Tech and an honorary doctor of letters from Yale.

“Nobody has ever done or will ever do what Eddie Robinson has done for this game,” legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno said. “Our profession will never, ever be able to repay Eddie Robinson for what he has done for this country and the profession of football.”

Time after time Coach Robinson proved that hard work, dedication, and determination could lead to unimaginable accomplishments. Neither of Coach Robinson’s parents graduated from high school, but they encouraged their son’s desire to stay in school and earn a college degree. A young Robinson moved on from high school to become a star quarterback at Leland College under Reuben Turner, a Baptist preacher who introduced Robinson to the concepts of a playbook and coaching clinics.

With no coaching opportunities available following college, Robinson took a job in a Baton Rouge feed mill before learning from a relative that there was an opening for a football coach at Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute, later to become Grambling State University. After an interview with school president Dr. Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, Robinson was chosen as the sixth head football coach of the Tigers.

It didn’t take Coach Rob, as he is affectionately known, long to prove his worth. Following his initial season, Coach Robinson took command and dismissed some players who he felt were not living up to expectations. The results came soon thereafter, as the next season Coach Robinson’s team posted a perfect 9-0 season with the team going undefeated, untied, and unscored upon. Grambling was only the second collegiate team to have shut out every opponent, a feat which has not been repeated since.

By 1949, Grambling’s football program was receiving national acclaim after former Tigers running back Paul “Tank” Younger signed with the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League, thus becoming the first player from a historically black college to be taken in the NFL.

In 1955, Grambling claimed the national Black College Championship by going 10-0 (the best record in school history) and outscoring opponents by a 356-61 margin. After picking up his 100th career coaching victory against Bethune-Cookman in 1957, Coach Robinson and his Tigers joined the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) in 1959. The following season he led the Tigers to the first of 17 SWAC titles under his guidance.

Another of Robinson’s former Tigers made NFL waves in 1963 as the late Junius “Buck” Buchanan became the first player from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to have been chosen first overall in the NFL Draft.

By 1984, Coach Robinson was poised to become college football’s winningest coach. After surpassing Amos Alonzo Stagg’s 314 coaching victories that year, he tied legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 323-win mark with a 23-6 win over Oregon State before becoming the career wins leader the next week with a 27-7 win over Prairie View A&M.

Coach Robinson finally relinquished his reigns to the Tigers following the 1997 season, but his contribution to the game will be remembered forever. Also during the same year, he was officially inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

The Football Writers of America's Coach of the Year award is named after Coach Robinson. Grambling also named its football stadium the Eddie Robinson Stadium.

After achieving one of sports' most incredible records with his 400th win in 1995, Coach said, "I wish I could cut up all of these victories into 400 pieces and give them to all the players and assistant coaches I have had. They are the ones who truly deserve the credit." Straight from his heart.

Coach told ESPN’s Richard Lapchick, "They said I would never be able to reach my third-grade dream of coaching football. I saw a coach then, he looked so good and his boys seemed to worship him. The fact that he was their hero was written all over their faces. That was the life I wanted. Seventy years later I ended a 56-year ride as a college head coach!"

Lapchick the son of legendary Basketball Hall of Famer Joe Lapchick (Joe Lapchick played a key role in the integration of the National Basketball Association) has followed his father’s legacy with his lifelong career commitment to ensuring integration in sports continues to move forward, worked with Eddie Robinson on Robinson’s autobiography in 1996.

Lapchick took the time to share his thoughts on the passing of Robinson with ESPN.com. Lapchick was somewhat taken aback by Robinson’s deep and abiding love to his wife Doris. Speaking on behalf of her family, Doris Robinson left this message at robinsonmuseum.com

“I am profoundly grateful to the many friends, organizations, corporations, and individuals who have given their loyal support to the Eddie G. Robinson Museum. I am deeply touched, and my family joins me in thanking you and expressing our sincere gratitude.

“Eddie Robinson to me is the greatest, kindest, most caring, and most loving husband and father ever. His successes have filled him with pride and humility. When able, he has always been ready to serve his church, Grambling State University, and the community. He is a champion of all causes that he considers just. He believes in God and his family and had extraordinary devotion to his job.

“Eddie Robinson is a man of even temperament and a gentleman at all times. Considerate, yet demanding, he always wanted what was best for his team. During his coaching days it was never too cold, too hot, too stormy, or too difficult to enhance the interests and welfare of his players, his football team, and his university. His devotion and allegiance to Grambling State University and the young men that played for him knew no limits.

“Eddie’s legacy on and off the field is there for all to see and with your help we will be able to continue his great legacy for generations to come. His wise and enlightened leadership can serve as a light to show our youth that they can rise to great heights. His hope is that all youth will see that receiving a degree from Grambling State University, or any of the outstanding universities throughout the land, is an honor and that individual success, hard work, and social responsibility can and should go together.

“Again, thank you, and know that I am sincerely and deeply grateful to all of you.”

The accolades and thoughts of many continue in tribute to the legacy Robinson established in a remarkable life lived.
“They call me the greatest. I know that the greatest football coach who ever stepped on the field is Coach Eddie Robinson. I have admired what he has done in turning boys into men. He is a credit to his sport as well as a credit to humanity.” Muhammad Ali
“Nobody has ever done or will ever do what Eddie Robinson has done for this game. Our profession will never, ever be able to repay Eddie Robinson for what he has done for this country and the profession of football." Joe Paterno, legendary head football coach at Penn State University

“What really stands out to me about Coach Rob are two things that he always said when he was receiving great accolades and honors. First, he always preached that no man is too big to coach the American youth. Second, he always said that he became a great coach because he had 'coach makers' -- meaning that he always tried to credit his players for the successes he experienced. Those two statements to me show the greatness in Coach Rob.” Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII MVP and former Grambling State University quarterback and head coach

“Eddie Robinson is a coach’s coach. As the son of a legendary coach myself, I saw the greatness in Coach Robinson the minute I shook his hand. When I saw him with his student-athletes, I saw their enormous love and respect for him. When I saw him and Doris together, I saw a lifetime love affair. Coach Robinson is a great leader, father figure, coach, friend, husband, American, and above all, a great human being.” Richard Lapchick, civil rights activist, scholar, and author who co-wrote Coach Robinson’s auto biography

One of the messages Robinson wanted to get across with Lapchick’s help in his autobiography were Robinson’s views on race relations in America. Never a public crusader for civil rights, Coach courageously challenged racism in his own way by proving that a black man could be a great football coach and, simultaneously, build the tenacity and determination of those in his charge as he led adolescents into manhood. I think of coach Robinson as every bit the barriers breaker that Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali were.

Coach said in "Never Before, Never Again" that in looking back at the issue of race, "We made extraordinary statements to break stereotypes: … Grambling won 17 SWAC championships and nine National Black Championships. The Howard Cosell documentary on Grambling in 1968 had black and white sports fans calling me a 'great football coach.' As we traveled across the South, we tried to use Grambling green (dollars) to quietly integrate hotels and restaurants. None of my players or coaches were seen at demonstrations in the 1960s. We made our own. The civil rights movement was helping to change the laws. Our goal was to help to change attitudes."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson told Lapchick, "Eddie Robinson has always been a hero in my eyes. Without question, he is an ambassador for our people, not only African-Americans, but all Americans. That's why I have such respect for coach Robinson."

It is because of men like Eddie Robinson sports and society has managed to move forward. That may sound somewhat simplistic but at the end of the day it took men of remarkable courage to stand up to a society that existed in the 1940’s and stand tall and stand firm as men with a never-ending resolve that the world can be a much better place if people are treated and respected for the people they are as opposed to the color of their skin. Rest easy, Eddie Robinson, you’ve taught everyone life lessons that will ensure your legacy will never end.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Eddie Robinson’s bio and ESPN.com

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