Remember coach Eddie Robinson? He’s Grambling State’s legendary football coach. The real question, however, is whether or not the Tigers are still living in Robinson’s past. Apparently, there was a power struggle, a boycott and a classic 1960s-type Players vs. Establishment confrontation at the university.
There was a forfeited game against Jackson State. There are health and safety concerns relative to the day-to-day operation of the football program — all detailed in a letter sent to the administration by the Grambling players and former coach Doug Williams, a school legend whose firing earlier this season is a big part of what prompted this. The team got an interim coach they didn’t like, George Ragsdale, who was ousted as well. Players eventually had enough, and soon boycotted.
The drama has ended, the team returned to the field, and now the Tigers (1-10, 1-7) end their season against instate rival Southern (7-4, 6-2).
“We’re focusing on the Bayou Classic and getting our guys ready,” said interim coach Dennis Winston, who took over the team after Ragsdale.
This is once a football program that Robinson had built from scratch. Not to mention he also has 408 wins, the most in D-1 college football history, 17 conference titles, nine national championships, led over 200 players to pro careers, four of those players are in the Hall of Fame. He wouldn’t recognize what was going on today. Which is why the players are just as confused, who spent a combined 30 hours traveling by bus back and forth from Grambling to Indianapolis. Then came the boycott.
There were no dissenting voices from within the team and no breaks in the chain. They designated senior safety Naquan Smith their spokesman, who conducted a televised press conference on the campus as the rest of the team stood behind him.
Now days, things are normal. Workers continue to paint hash marks on the field where Robinson once stood. The Tigers won their first game on its Homecoming night against Mississippi Valley and continue to play more motivated.
“I think they’re playing better,” said Southern coach Dawson Odums, whose team will play in the conference title game against Jackson State Dec. 7. “It’s a rivalry. Records don’t really mean anything.”
As usual, the Bayou Classic returns around this time and the tone for this intense intrastate rivalry has been set. Last year Southern survived 38-35, its first win over the Tigers since 2008.
The players’ demands don’t make them prima donnas. Consider this for a moment: The bus was scheduled to leave Grambling at 6 p.m. on a Thursday and arrive at 9 a.m. that Friday. Is this – 15 hours in a bus between Thursday and Friday, 15 more between Saturday and Sunday – Is this the student-athlete model the Grambling administration wants to promote? Contractors have already offered to install new flooring in the weight room and locals have volunteered to clean the facilities.
Morris J. Dillard III is the sports editor of the Southern Digest.