Thursday, April 05, 2007

Coach Eddie Robinson, Grambling football coach, made civil rights part of his game plan.
To his very last day, April 3rd, 2007, Eddie Robinson was always battling something.
There was the institutional racism that surrounded him, the piddling football budget he and his coaching staff subsisted on at predominantly black Grambling State and, ultimately, the Alzheimer's disease that took his life at age 88.
And so ended the life of a beloved football coach who put a small school in remote northern Louisiana on the map and turned it into a virtual farm team for the NFL during a career that spanned 57 years.

He was born Edward Gay Robinson, the son of a sharecropper and a domestic maid, on February 13, 1919 in Jackson, Louisiana. He graduated with a BS in English from Leland College in Baker, La. He earned an MS degree in Physical Education from the U. of Iowa.
After college he could not find a job as a coach. He began working in a feed mill in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by day, and at night he worked on an ice wagon.
He married Doris Mott in 1941. They were married for 65 years. He aunt worked at Grambling. At that time it was known as Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute. It consisted of 5 buildings in the middle of a peach orchard and pig farms. There was an opening at the school for a football coach. Robinson took the job. He salary was $63.75 per month. That was a pay raise from the feed mill and the ice wagon.
In 1945 the father of his star players was a large cotton sharecropper. He pulled all of his sons out of school to pick cotton. Robinson took his entire team over to the farm and picked all of the cotton for the sharecropper. With his star players bach, he went on to win the championship.
Robinson was a champion of "equal rights" who tried to effect change by working within the established boundaries and avoiding confrontation. He rallied against prejudice but refused to allow racism to keep him from his destiny.
"You know, I've lived a long time, and I've seen a lot," he once said. "I have ridden on the back of the bus, and I have drunk from segregated water fountains; but, I am not trying to make any body pay. All I wanted was an opportunity to prove that I can do what other people can do. I got that at Grambling."
Robinson built a football powerhouse with a worldwide reputation, all the while struggling to get past years of segregation and discrimination against blacks.
His success at Grambling no doubt made him the first easily recognizable black coach in any sport.
"Today we mourn the loss of a great Louisianan and a true American hero," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. "Coach Eddie Robinson became the most successful college coach of all time and one of the greatest civil rights pioneers in our history. ... Coach Robinson elevated a small town program to national prominence and tore down barriers to achieve an equal playing field for athletes of all races."
Robinson won 408 games, the most ever for any coach at the time of his retirement in 1997. He sent hundreds of players to the NFL and other leagues, and the majority of them were clutching college degrees when they left.
Playing at Grambling became a goal of young black men as Robinson's fame grew.
"Everybody wanted to play at Grambling," Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said. "He'd done such a fantastic job. He was on national TV, you know, and that was the first time I'd ever seen a black college football team on TV growing up."
Robinson's career spanned 11 presidents, several wars and the civil rights movement. Though his teams struggled during his final years, his overall record of excellence is what will be remembered: 408-165-15.
Until John Gagliardi of St. John's, Minn., topped the victory mark four years ago, Robinson was the winningest coach in all of college football.
Jerry Izenberg, the sports columnist emeritus at the Star-Ledger of Newark and a close friend of Robinson since 1963, said the coach was an inspiration in the deep South.
"People look at black pride in America and sports' impact on it," Izenberg said. "In the major cities it took off the first time Jackie Robinson stole home. In the deep South, it started with Eddie Robinson, who took a small college in northern Louisiana with little or no funds and sent the first black to the pros and made everyone look at him and Grambling."
Running back Paul "Tank" Younger signed with the Los Angeles Rams and became the first player from an all-black college to enter the NFL. Suddenly, pro scouts learned how to find the little school 65 miles east of Shreveport near the Arkansas border.
Robinson sent over 200 players to the NFL, including seven first-round draft choices and Williams, who succeeded Robinson as Grambling's coach in 1998. Others went to the Canadian Football League and the now-defunct USFL.
Robinson's pro stars included Willie Davis, James Harris, Ernie Ladd, Buck Buchanan, Sammy White, Cliff McNeil, Willie Brown, Roosevelt Taylor, Charlie Joiner and Willie Williams.
The same year Robinson took his team on the road, 1968, Howard Cosell and Izenberg produced the documentary, "Grambling College: 100 Yards to Glory;" Robinson became vice president of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics; and all three major television networks carried special programming on Grambling football.
A year later, Grambling played before 277,209 paying customers in 11 games, despite a home field that seated just 13,000.
The National Football Foundation honored Robinson in 1992 with its Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award. When he retired, the organization inducted him into the College Football Hall of Fame. Also in 1997, foundation board member and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner endowed one of the foundation's national scholar-athlete awards in Robinson's name with a $300,000 gift.

Robinson was Grambling's coach for 56 years, from 1942 to 1997. He became the first college coach to rack up 400 wins, completing his career with 408 wins, 165 losses and 15 ties. His teams had just eight losing seasons and won 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and nine national black college championships.
Robinson sent more than 200 players to the N-F-L.
His survivors include Doris, his only wife of 65 years, and his son Eddie Robinson, Jr.; a daughter, Lillian Berry, and 5 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren.
His funeral is scheduled for Wednesday, 11 April 2007 at the Grambling Assembly Center next to Robinson Stadium.
Instead of flowers, donations may be sent to The Friends of the Eddie G. Robinson Museum, P.O. Box 550, Grambling, LA. 71245. Details at



Blogger ichbinalj said...

In the Spike Lee movie "School Daze", actor Ossie Davis does an Oscar caliber spoof of Coach Eddie Robinson. His pre-game pep talk is part Hell-Fire-and-Brimstone pure Baptist preaching, part Socratic rhettoric, part Napoleon Hill "Think and Grow Rich" and part Norman Vinvent Peale "Power of Positive Thinking". It was designed to intimadate and motivate, elevate and entertain. And it works on all counts. The movie is a cult classic. It was and continues to be one of Spike Lee's best joints. 40 Acres and a Mule.

2:13 PM  

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