I was so lucky the summer of 1996 because that was the summer I attended the Eddie Robinson Football Camp at Grambling State University for a week. Coach Robinson did the same routines with us as he did with his players. He even went so far as to wake us up for practice by knocking on our doors and ringing his famous cowbell! I really had fun that whole week and was fortunate enough to bring home a trophy for the most outstanding junior camper for defense. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything in the world.
Eddie Robinson, or Coach Rob, as he is known by former players, coaches, and other admirers, had become my hero by the time camp ended that hot July week.
Coach Robinson, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana native, was born February 13, 1919. He graduated from McKinley High School and went on to play quarterback at Leland College, which no longer exists.
Robinson started coaching at Grambling in 1941. His first major success as a coach came in 1955, when his team went undefeated, un-scored on, and untied. His first great player, Paul Tank Younger, went on to be one of the first blacks to play in the NFL.
Coach Rob went on to win 17 SWAC titles, 8 national black titles, and 4 of his players were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. These four players were Willie Davis, Willie Brown, Julius “Big Hands” Buchannan, and Charlie Joiner. Coach Robinson’s greatest success came in the 1970s when he had quarterbacks James Harris, Matt Reed, and of course, Doug Williams.
In 1977, Grambling played against Temple University, a Division I-A school, in Tokyo, Japan. Grambling’s triumphant win gained international recognition for the football program and the university. Coach Eddie Robinson tied the record of Paul (Bear) Bryant as the coach to have the most wins in college football history in 1985 with 323 victories when Grambling defeated Oregon State, 23-6.
This was an especially momentous occasion because Oregon State was a PAC-10 and Division I-A school. Grambling’s next victory (win number 324) led to Coach Robinson being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated on October 14, 1985, becoming the first black college head football coach ever to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
I started following Grambling Football when I was seven years old; Grambling still had good quality players at that time, players such as Clements Gordon, Walter Dean, and Jake Reed. In the 1990s, Coach Rob was getting up in age but had the stamina of a much younger man. In my opinion, the best Grambling quarterback during that time was Kendrick Nord. He was the quarterback that brought Coach Rob win number “400” in 1995. Coach Eddie Robinson finished his college career with 408 wins, 165 losses, and 15 ties.
I have witnessed some exciting Grambling football games. The game I remember most vividly was when Grambling played Alcorn State University in 1991. Alcorn had star player Steve “Air” McNair. McNair was 6’2″, 220 pounds, and had the capacity to run 40 yards in 4.6 seconds. With Grambling ahead and with just a few minutes remaining in the game, Grambling fans, including myself, thought for sure that the Tigers had won another impressive victory.
McNair was recovering from a leg injury and had not yet returned to full capacity. Despite his limited ability, he helped Alcorn move into the Tigers’ territory. McNair received the ball from his center, secured it in his arm, and sprang into the end zone for the winning touchdown!
Eddie Robinson is not just one of the greatest coaches of all times; he was also a great American. Coach Robinson’s patriotism was legendary. Even in the days of bitter segregation in the South, he always taught his players to love America. Eddie Robinson, barring none, was the most important advocate of Black college football during his lifetime.
He helped change the sport from being viewed through the bitter eyes of segregation. He introduced Black College Football to the world in such a positive light that it resulted in national, and even international exposure.
The fact the annual game between GSU and Southern University, known as the Bayou Classic, is broadcast each year to a national television audience is as much due to the legendary status of Coach Robinson as a coaching icon as it is to the exciting quality of football produced by these two college teams each year. I am proud that I got to know this giant of a man in Summer 1996.
He is an American legend and my hero!