This article is reprinted from the Oct. 30, 1997 issue of The Gramblinite,
Eddie Robinson’s last homecoming game before his retirement at the end of the season.
His longevity covers 57 seasons and he has been a coach half the time that Black college football has been in existence.
He is the winningest coach in college football history with 408 victories, all at Grambling State University where he spent his entire tenure.
During a long and storied career, he won nine national Black college championships and developed 220 odd pro football stalwarts, include four members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This is the chronology of Eddie Robinson, one of football’s ranking strategic brains, who stands alone among the elite of college football coaches – past and present.
Robinson will make his 55th and final Homecoming Day appearance Saturday as foreman of the Tigers in a remarkable career dating back to 1941.
In between, he made Grambling a perennial winner and earned almost every award and accolade presented to members of his profession.
Robinson’s tenure at Grambling is 16 years longer than any other coach at one school. Alonzo Stagg spend 41 years at the University of Chicago.
Regretfully, the 1997 campaign is twilight time for the fabled mentor, a man many regard as a national treasure. Few coaches have possessed his drive, fire and commanding presence.
Robinson will bid adieu to his beloved Tigers and ride off into the sunset at the end of the season.
His hair is thinner now and he has mellowed somewhat, which is what you might expect after diagramming X’s and O’s and battling twin demons of wide-left and wide-right for over half a century, but Eddie Robinson, at 78 years-of-age, still reports to the football field each day with missionary zeal, a bounce in his gait, and a smile on his face, like a teenager who just got his driver’s license.
The story of his life, spanning five decades, is like stepping into a time capsule before plastic helmets, face masks, television, concrete stadiums, football gloves and low-quarter shoes.
It is a chronicle of heroes, facts, legends and myths. He is the last bridge between the old and the new in collage coaching. Robinson knew Paul "Bear" Bryant (323 victories), Amos Alonzo Stagg (314) victories, and Glen "Pop" Warner (313) – the other coaches who won over 300 games -personally.
A lot has happened since he took the Grambling job as a wide-eyed dreamer in 1941 for the princely sum of $63.75 a month. Amazingly, Robinson has not missed a single Grambling pay day – or a Grambling football game – in all those years.
Against the grain, he survived and prospered to win more games than any other coach, a mind-boggling achievement considering the obstacles he faced. Robinson is a product spokesman for several blue-chip corporations and his income climbed into the six-figure bracket.
Over the span, he developed 85 All-America stars – starting with Grambling native Paul "Tank" Younger in 1947 – and made Grambling the focus of national media attention, a unique following in college sports.
This year, attention is focused on his high-profiled "Farewell Tour." Former football players, faculty members, students, alumni, friends and supporters are uniting to pay fitting tribute.
Throughout his career, the GSU mentor has been a miracle worker, averaging 7.5 victories a season. He set the record by transforming a woeful Grambling team into a gridiron juggernaut.
Marino Casem a long-time coaching adversary and current athletic director at Southern University, Baton Rouge calls Robinson "a great coach, one of a kind. When they made him they threw away the mold," he said.
"Eddie is a visionary with an incredible work ethic. There’s a down-to-earthness about him that fits the classic coaching profile. He has a daredevil streak and he is as meticulous as a lawyer preparing a brief.
"Coach takes the field with a passionate fervor for each game," Casem stated. Other coaching colleagues share those feelings.
Thanks to Robinson’s power of persuasion, Grumbling fans are everywhere and the G-Men are widely recognized as the national Black team.
Sports Illustrated observed that "Grambling is a watch-pocket version of Notre Dame in that it has a national constituency, especially among Black Americans."
Grambling’s barber-shop, blue-collar, hard-hat, boondocks inner-city following is only surpassed by Notre Dame’s subway fans.
A significant sidebar is the fact that Robinson steered the Tigers to meaningful objectives and established a new athletic dimension for minority colleges.
Grambling football squads have played in more big city stadiums than any team in America. A coast-to-coast schedule is the rule rather than the exception.
Robinson and his G-Men have drawn big crowds into Yankee Stadium, New York City; Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh; Soldier Field, Chicago; Comiskey Park, Chicago; Veteran Stadium, Philadelphia; Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City; The Coliseum, Los Angeles: Silverdome, Pontiac, Mich.; Municipal Stadium, Cleveland; Shea Stadium, New York City; Tiger Stadium, Detroit; the Orange Bowl, Miami; Fulton county Stadium, Atlanta; Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.; Municipal Stadium, Baltimore and the Astrodome, Houston.
Commodore Stadium, Nashville, TN; Memorial Stadium, Jackson, MS; Hula Stadium, Honolulu; Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis; Giant Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ; Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Washington, DC; the Cotton Bowl, Dallas; Texas Stadium, Dallas; the Superdome, New Orleans, Memorial Stadium, Little Rock; Rice Stadium, Houston; Sugar Bowl Stadium, New Orleans; Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.; Legion Field, Birmingham and Independence Stadium, Shreveport.
In summary, Grambling has played in 28 of the 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. – another record that no school can match.
The G-Men also played the first regular season football games outside the United States in Tokyo in 1976 and 1977.
While he has not had the mega-hype of coaches at bit Division I-A schools with well-heeled budgets, Robinson has received invitations to dine at the White House from two presidents – Ronald Reagan and Gerald R. Ford. He is also a friend of former President George Bush.
Robinson received a telephone call from President Bill Clinton, who offered congratulations, the day he won his 400th game.
Without social stratification, people from all walks of life embrace him as a national hero.
Robinson has been lavished with too many honors to mention – over 200 awards, trophies and citations. Earlier, the Football Writers Association of America cited him as "the Coach who made the biggest contribution to college division football in the last 25 years."
The Football Writers Association announced on September 29, that the organization’s prestigious Coach-of-the-Year award for major colleges will be called the "Eddie Robinson Award.
The FWAA is currently negotiating with several cities and broadcast entities for a permanent home for the presentation of the Eddie Robinson/FWAA Award.
Blair Kerkhoff, president of the FWAA Wrote: The FWAA Award and the Coach-of-the-Year Award presented by the American Football Coaches Association have been the two major coaching awards.
"As a coach of a program once considered small college and later classified as Division I-AA, Robinson never won the FAAA Award.
"Now, Eddie Robinson is the award."
From 1986-96, the FWAA Coach-of-the-Year Awards was presented in Houston in conjunction with the Touchdown Club and the American Heart Association.
In December, the famed coach will be inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall-of-Fame in New York City without the usual waiting period.
Robinson has been head coach for the East-West Shrine game at Stanford University and has served as coach and clinician for all-star games and camps in the United States, Germany and Japan.
He served as president of the College Football Coaches Association as well as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Robinson estimates that he has coached over 4,500 varsity athletes in football, basketball and baseball with an 85 percent graduation rate.
Football has been his job and his love … His immersion has been total. He will be missed but his legacy will remain for the ages.
Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson … Thanks for the memories.