Grambling's Robinson still a man in motion after 53 years A Coach for the Ages

September 16, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

Grambling, La. -- It has been one of those long, sticky summer nights in the South where the heat has been unrelenting, the humidity punishing. Eddie Robinson has walked the half-mile uphill from the stadium to the locker room, his Grambling team outlasting rival Alcorn State in a shootout.

Robinson, 75, has on green knit pants rolled up at the bottom. His oxford shoes are covered with dust and the long-sleeved white shirt is drenched. Beads of sweat pour down his round face ending in one huge drop at his chin.

"Oh, don't know how much more of this I can take," says Robinson, shaking his head after the 62-56 final score.

Curtis Armand has heard and seen this before. He played for Robinson in the 1940s.

"You know how it's going to end for him?" says Armand, now Southwestern Athletic Conference officiating observer. "Grambling is going to be at home and its quarterback is going to throw the winning touchdown in the final seconds. Coach Robinson will then walk out to the Big G in the middle of the field and die with a smile on his face. Of course, that could be another 20 years from now."

If one thinks 53 years of coaching has slowed Robinson down, forget it. Robinson has never coached from a tower. Never will.

He proudly claims he called all 65 plays against Alcorn State. Believe it. Robinson is constant motion on the sidelines. Preaching. Teaching. Shuffling plays through receivers and linemen. At the beginning and end of each offensive series, quarterback Kendrick Nord reports to Robinson.

Pronto.

"Coach still has a very sharp mind. The intensity, desire and passion for the game is still there," said Robert Smith, Grambling's defensive line coach, who played at the school from 1980 to 1983. "Coach Rob still runs pass patterns and drops back to pass in practice. The kids go crazy over that kind of stuff."

They hold him in the highest esteem.

After the Alcorn State game, Grambling players still were celebrating when Robinson walked in to the locker room. He cleared his throat once. He did it again. There was silence.

Robinson talked about the game. He thanked God, his coaching staff, the administrators, the film crew, the water boy . . . and finally the team.

"You played like one of the great Grambling teams," Robinson said, concluding the post-game speech.

The players howled, hollered and slapped high-fives.

"That's the greatest compliment you can get," says split end Curtis Ceasar. "Coach has seen all the great Grambling teams. He is Mr. Grambling."

The story of Grambling football is a story of Robinson's patience, dignity and will. For more than 50 years, he has sounded like a Southern Baptist minister telling his players that anything can be accomplished with a strong work ethic.

Robinson has practiced what he preached.

Travel with him in his 1980 brown Cadillac around the Grambling campus and he'll show you where there once stood cotton fields when the school was named Louisiana Normal and Industrial Institute.

Forty-four years ago, the football team didn't have a practice field or a stadium. The ground where Robinson's office now sits was a peach orchard.

The memories gleam in his eyes while the anecdotes and history lessons pour from his lips.

"You go back to when I had Tank Younger, Frank Cornish, Roosevelt Taylor. I didn't even have a car then," says Robinson. "I was the assistant coach, trainer, water boy, sportswriter and even lined the field before games.

"In the off-season, I coached the men's and women's basketball teams as well as the baseball team," he says. "I was athletic director, too. I did it all. But I have always been the type of person that you work with what you've got and go from there."

Robinson, who started out making $63.75 a month, has turned Grambling into one of the most respected programs in the

country.

Robinson has had more than 250 players go on to the NFL, including Younger, the first player chosen from a historically black college, and James Harris, one of the first black starters at quarterback. Robinson also coached Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to play in, and win, a Super Bowl.

The record speaks for itself: College football's all-time winningest coach with a 389-140-15 record, Robinson won or shared 16 SWAC titles and nine national black college championships.

Comparisons come to Bear

There will always be those who challenge Robinson and the legitimacy of his record, especially when compared with that of the late Bear Bryant, who retired in 1982 with the old mark for victories at 323.

Critics say Bryant coached against tougher Division I opponents while Grambling played less talented black schools.

Former Philadelphia Eagles coach Dick Vermeil says Robinson could have coached on any level.

"Eddie could have coached anywhere, of course in the NFL," says Vermeil. "The first thing you must be is a leader and Eddie is that above all else. Eddie has a profound effect on his players. And his football knowledge will compare with anyone else's."

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