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Robinson, Eddie G.

Robinson, Eddie G.

1919-2007

College football coach

Until 2003, no coach in the history of college football had won more games than Eddie G. Robinson. In fact, with some 408 wins to his credit in a career that spanned five decades, Robinson's record took years to surpass. A dedicated and principled man who led the Grambling State Tigers from 1941 to 1997, Robinson became a legend, respected by his peers and admired by the many players who have served under him. Sports Illustrated correspondent Rick Reilly called Robinson "college football's Old Man River, flowing sweeter and stronger than ever." The reporter added that Robinson was "a good coach with a simple program proving that with a little luck and…years of hard work a man can still win his way onto the front page." Fellow college coach Joe Paterno was quoted in the Grambling State press guide as saying, "Nobody has ever done or ever will do what Eddie Robinson has done for the game…. Our profession will never, ever be able to repay Eddie Robinson for what he has done for the country and the profession of football."

A traditionally black college located in Louisiana, Grambling State University gained national renown for its football program, with Robinson's help. Once restricted to playing other all-black colleges and small universities in the South, Grambling came to undertake an autumn football schedule that included appearances in major cities from New Orleans to Miami and elsewhere. Since 1941 Robinson's Tigers were conference champions or co-champions 16 times. More than 200 players coached by Robinson went gone on to work in the National Football League, including Hall-of-Famers Paul Younger, Willie Brown, Willie Davis, and Buck Buchanan.

Instilled Strong Drive to Succeed

Still, Robinson was never defined just by his ability to win football games. He was most proud of the educational opportunities he offered his players. His greatest challenge was to help "at-risk" high school students blossom into good football players and successful businessmen with college diplomas. "I never give up on a kid," Robinson said in a story for the Knight-Ridder wire service. "Anybody can do anything he wants to do in life if he's willing to pay the price. We want them to be better men for having played the game."

Robinson knew the value of a college education from experience. He was the first member of his family to finish grade school and was encouraged in his studies by parents who had spent their lives doing menial labor. "I didn't have a choice about going to school," he told the Detroit Free Press. "My daddy had the quickest belt in Baton Rouge. And he didn't just whip you, he'd talk to you. He'd say: ‘I want you to be a good person.’ And then whoop! ‘You can grow up and do things on the street and they‘l put you in prison.’ And there'd be another ‘whoop!’ And I'd say, ‘Well, just go ahead and whip me and don't talk to me.’ And he'd say: ‘Nooo.’ And he'd whip awhile and talk awhile."

Robinson was born in rural Jackson, Louisiana, on February 13, 1919. His father was a sharecropper and his mother a domestic worker. When he was six, his family moved to Baton Rouge, and his parents divorced. He remained close to both father and mother. Robinson's football memories go back to third grade, when his father began taking him to games. "I liked to hang around the bench and see what the coach was doing," he recalled in a Knight-Ridder wire story. When the local high school football coach brought his uniformed team to Robinson's elementary class, Robinson's classmates ogled the players—and Eddie sidled up to the coach. He was drawn to the figure who could command respect and discipline from so many big athletes.

By the time Robinson was in high school he was organizing street football leagues for the neighborhood children in Baton Rouge. He was a gifted athlete himself and played football at McKinley High School before earning a scholarship to all-black Leland College in Baker, Louisiana. At Leland, Robinson was the star quarterback, but more important to him was his relationship with Coach Reuben S. Turner, a Baptist minister who introduced Robinson to the playbook and took him to his first coaching clinic.

Set Sights on College Coaching

Robinson dreamed of becoming a college football coach himself, but he faced an enormous drawback—he was black in the days of Jim Crow discrimination. The only college position he could possibly hope to obtain would be at a traditionally all-black school, and these were all well staffed. Having earned his bachelor's degree at Leland, Robinson returned to Baton Rouge and took a job at a feed mill for 25 cents an hour. Not long after that, he heard that the Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute—now Grambling State University—was searching for a new football coach. He applied for the job.

In 1941, the 22-year-old Robinson assumed his duties as head football coach at Grambling State. The days of assistant coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators, and specialty coaches were long in the future, so Robinson did everything: He taught offense and defense, mowed the football field, fixed sandwiches for road trips through towns that would not serve blacks in restaurants, taped his players’ sore joints, and even wrote game stories for the newspapers. And he established strict standards of personal conduct and educational achievement for his players. In his first year the team went 3-5-1, but the following season—during which he recruited new players and dismissed those who did not live up to his expectations—the Tigers had a perfect 9-0 season, going unbeaten, untied, and unscored on.

But Grambling State could not field a football team during the latter years of World War II, so Robinson spent 1943 and 1944 coaching at the high school level. He returned to Grambling in 1945 and began to forge his reputation with one simple incident in town. That year a parent pulled his two sons off the team and said they couldn't play anymore because they had to pick cotton. Robinson rounded up the entire football team, packed them into a bus, and they all went to the father's farm to pick the cotton crop. Robinson got to keep his two star running backs on the team, and the publicity brought him new admirers.

At a Glance …

Born on February 13, 1919, in Jackson, LA; died on April 3, 2007, in Ruston, LA; son of a sharecropper and a domestic worker; married Doris; children: Eddie Jr; Lillian Rose. Education: Leland College, Baker, LA, BA, 1941; University of Iowa, MA, physical education, 1954.

Career:

Feed mill, Baton Rouge, LA, laborer, 1941(?); Grambling State University, head football coach, 1941-97.

Memberships:

National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, president, 1966-77.

Awards:

Inducted into NAIA Hall of Fame, 1976; inducted into Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame, 1979; inducted into Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, 1983; Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Award, New York Urban League, 1983; University of Iowa, distinguished alum, 1986; Horatio Alger Award, 1988; inducted into Southwest Athletic Conference Hall of Fame, 1992; Eddie Robinson Trophy for outstanding black collegiate football player founded 1994; American Football Coaches Association, Tuss McLaughry Award, 1996; Football Writers Association of America, Eddie G. Robinson Coach of the Year Award, 1997; College Football Hall of Fame, inducted, 1997.

Racked Up Wins

In 1959 the Grambling Tigers joined the South West Athletic Conference. Between that year and 1994 the team won 16 conference championships or cochampionships, and Robinson compiled an amazing 397-143-15 record. To appreciate the immensity of the coach's achievement, it is only necessary to compare him to the second-winningest coach in college football history—Alabama's Bear Bryant. Robinson passed Bryant's win total of 323 games on October 5, 1985.

Enormous publicity attended Robinson's record-breaking win with Grambling State in 1985. Some observers feared that the coach would become the target of white hatred, much as Henry Aaron had when he broke Babe Ruth's home run record. Instead Robinson reported that he did not receive a single hate letter, even from the legion of southern fans who worshipped Bear Bryant. When asked if his record was somehow tarnished by the fact that his team played most of its games against Division I-AA caliber competition, Robinson told Sports Illustrated: "I grew up in the South. I was told where to attend elementary school, where to attend junior high school, where to attend high school. When I became a coach, I was told who I could recruit, who I could play, where I could play and when I could play. I did what I could within the system." He added that his philosophy had always been "whatever league you're in, whatever level, win there."

Sports Illustrated contributor Reilly defended Robinson by comparing his accomplishments to those of the legendary Bryant. "Discrimination and anorexic budgets were just two of the trapdoors the Bear didn't encounter," the reporter noted. "Robinson recruited some 200 future NFL players—more than any other school—with a yearly budget about equal to Alabama's outlay for stamps." He added that Robinson "recruited against major colleges offering prestigious scholarships, luxurious dorm rooms, plentiful training tables, big-time bowls, TV exposure."

Another achievement of lasting significance for Robinson came in 1988. That year, a former Grambling State player, Doug Williams, became the first black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl. Williams's Washington Redskins won Super Bowl XXII by a wide margin, andWilliams himself was named Most Valuable Player after completing 18 of 29 passes for 340 yards. Robinson, who watched the game from a place of honor in the stands, told the Detroit Free Press: "For years I wanted desperately to find out what it would take to get a Grambling player to be an NFL quarterback. I went to every NFL scout I knew. I talked with every former player we had in the NFL. We ran our offense like certain pro teams. I never accepted the fact that there couldn't be a black quarterback, just like I never accepted the fact there can't be a black head coach or a black owner. Anything is possible in our society if people are willing to pay the price."

Paid the Price for Success

"Paying the price" was a favorite theme of Robinson's. He reminded his players—and anyone else that he talked to—that America offers opportunities for everyone who works hard and tries diligently to succeed. "Anything is possible in our society if people are willing to pay the price," he told the Detroit Free Press. "Nobody's gonna give you anything…. It's competition, whether you want to compete or not." Having faced more than his share of discrimination over the years as a coach of an all-black team in the Deep South, Robinson is still unwilling to complain. "I have feelings," he admitted in the Free Press, "but I'd rather say good things than bad things." In a Knight-Ridder wire story he elaborated on that theme. "You know I stopped being a black coach a long time ago," he said. "I am an American coach, and I try and do what every American coach tries to do. I want to win, make my boys better men and pass on those things that our society holds dearest."

Robinson continued to work long past the age when most people retire; he simply enjoyed his work too much to quit. Robinson's working days began at about 6:30 in the morning with his traditional bell-ringing wake-up visit to his players in their dormitory. He often stayed in his office until nearly midnight. His son, Eddie Jr., worked as his assistant coach. "It's just been so much fun," Robinson told the Detroit Free Press. "I've been paid to play…. I pity the guy who has a job that he doesn't enjoy doing." In 1994, when he was 75, he turned in the usual winning season, coming just three games short of his 400th career victory. The next year he notched his 400th career victory.

Numerous honors and awards were heaped on the coach over the years. When Grambling dedicated its new $11 million football stadium, it was named after Robinson. The boulevard it is on is also named after Robinson. The 1994 season saw the debut of the Eddie Robinson Trophy, a national honor to be bestowed annually upon the best football player at a black college. He was the recipient of five honorary degrees, from Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University, Southern University, Springfield College, and Yale University. The NAACP honored him with the Jackie Robinson Award in 1995. He was the first active coach to win the American Football Coaches Association's highest honor, the Tuss McLaughry Award, in 1996.

In his final three seasons as a coach, Robinson racked up more losses than wins; yet he never lost his even-keeled approach to the game he loved. He retired in 1997 because, he reasoned, "it was time," according to the New York Times. Reflecting on his career in Sports Illustrated, Robinson said: "People can do what they want with the record. They can put an asterisk on it if they want. That's their business. But look, I got my inspiration from all coaches, from college coaches and high school coaches, black and white…. And I worked hard, too. I busted my butt. I always knew my part to play, and if my part ended up having something to do with history, then I'm happy. I never let anybody change my faith in this country. All I want is for my story to be an American story, not black and not white. Just American. I want it to belong to everybody." When the Washington Post pressed him to brag about his accomplishments, Robinson simply concluded, "The real record I have set for over 50 years is the fact that I have had one job and one wife." His modesty aside, he continued to amass honors even in retirement. The Football Writers Association of America renamed its annual award in his honor and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997. The Louisiana Legislature passed a bill in 1999 to establish an Eddie G. Robinson Museum. It took until 2003 for John Gagliardi to topple Robinson from his place as the game's winningest coach. In 2004 Robinson was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative disease that deteriorates cognitive function; he succumbed to the disease in Ruston, Louisiana, on April 3, 2007.

Sources

Books

Lee, Aaron S., comp., Quotable Eddie Robinson: 408 Memorable Quotes about Football, Life, and Success by and about College Football's All-Time Winningest Coach, Towle, 2003.

Webb, Pat, ed., Reflections of a Legend: Coach Eddie G. Robinson, "The Winningest Coach in Football History," Box Square Entertainment, 1997.

Periodicals

Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), April 7, 2007, p. B7.

Detroit Free Press, February 1, 1988, p. 1F; September 6, 1990, p. 12E.

Newsday (Long Island, NY), December 4, 1994, p. 16.

New York Times, April 5, 2007, p. B7.

Sports Illustrated, October 14, 1985, pp. 32-39.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), April 12, 2007, p. 1.

Washington Post, September 22, 1994, p. 6B.

On-line

"Eddie G. Robinson to Lie in State on April 9," Black Collegian,www.black-collegian.com/news/eddie_robinson0407.asp (June 1, 2007).

Eddie G. Robinson Museum,www.robinsonmuseum.com/biography.htm (June 1, 2007).

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"Robinson, Eddie G.." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Robinson, Eddie G. 1919—

Eddie G. Robinson 1919

College football coach

At a Glance

A Legend Begins His Career

Paying the Price

Sources

No coach in the history of college football has won more games than Eddie Robinson. In fact, with some 400 wins to his credit in a career that spans five decades, Robinson quite possibly owns a won-loss record that will never be broken. A dedicated and principled man who has led the Grambling State Tigers since 1941, Robinson is indeed a living legend, respected by his peers and admired by the many players who have served under him over the past 50 years. Sports Illustrated correspondent Rick Reilly called Robinson college footballs Old Man River, flowing sweeter and stronger than ever. The reporter added that Robinson is a good coach with a simple program proving that with a little luck and ... years of hard work a man can still win his way onto the front page. Fellow college coach Joe Paterno is quoted in the Grambling State press guide as saying, Nobody has ever done or ever will do what Eddie Robinson has done for the game Our profession will never, ever be able to repay Eddie Robinson for what he has done for the country and the profession of football.

A traditionally black college located in Louisiana, Grambling State University has gained national renown for its football program. Once restricted to playing other allblack colleges and small universities in the South, Grambling now undertakes an autumn football schedule that includes appearances in major cities from New Orleans to Miami and else-where. Since 1941 Robinsons Tigers have only turned in three losing seasons but have been conference champions or co-champions 16 times. More than 200 ex-Grambling players have gone on to work in the National Football League, including Hall-of-Famers Willie Brown, Willie Davis, and Buck Buchanan.

Still, Robinson has never been defined just by his ability to win football games. He is most proud of the educational opportunities he has offered his players. His greatest challenge has been to help at-risk high school students blossom into good football players and successful businessmen with college diplomas. I never give up on a kid, Robinson said in a story for the Knight-Ridder wire service. Anybody can do anything he wants to do in life if hes willing to pay the price. We want them to be better men for having played the game.

Robinson knows from experience the value of a college education. He was the first member of his family to finish

At a Glance

Born February 13, 1919, in Jackson, LA; son of a sharecropper and a domestic worker; wifes name, Doris; children: Eddie Jr. Education: Leland College, B.A, 1941; University of Iowa, M.A.

Worked as a laborer in a feed mill, Baton Rouge, LA, C. .1941. Grambling State University, head football coach, 1941-.

Selected awards: Inducted into NAIA Hall of Fame, 1976; inducted into Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame, 1979; inducted into Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, 1983; Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Award, New York Urban League, 1983; Horatio Alger Award, 1988; inducted into Southwest Athletic Conference Hall of Fame, 1992; Eddie Robinson Trophy for outstanding black collegiate football player founded 1994.

Addresses: OfficeGrambling State University, Grambling, LA 71245.

grade school and was encouraged in his studies by parents who had spent their lives doing menial labor. I didnt have a choice about going to school, he told the Detroit Free Press. My daddy had the quickest belt in Baton Rouge. And he didnt just whip you, hed talk to you. Hed say: I want you to be a good person.And then whoop! You can grow up and do things on the street and theyll put you in prison. And thered be another whoop! And Id say, Well, just go ahead and whip me and dont talk to me. And hed say: Nooo. And hed whip awhile and talk awhile.

Robinson was bom in rural Jackson, Louisiana, in 1919. His father was a sharecropper and his mother a domestic worker. When he was six, his family moved to Baton Rouge, and his parents divorced. He remained close to both father and mother. Robinsons football memories go back to third grade, when his father began taking him to games. I liked to hang around the bench and see what the coach was doing, he recalled in a Knight-Ridder wire story. When the local high school football coach brought his uniformed team to Robinsons elementary class, Robinsons classmates ogled the playersand Eddie sidled up to the coach. He was drawn to the figure who could command respect and discipline from so many big athletes.

By the time Robinson was in high school he was organizing street football leagues for the neighborhood children in Baton Rouge. He was a gifted athlete himself and played football at McKinley High School before earning a scholarship to all-black Leland College in Baker, Louisiana. At Leland, Robinson was the star quarter-back, but more important to him was his relationship with coach Reuben S. Turner, a Baptist minister who introduced Robinson to the playbook and took him to his first coaching clinic.

Robinson dreamed of becoming a college football coach himself, but he faced an enormous drawbackhe was black in the days of Jim Crow discrimination. The only college position he could possibly hope to obtain would be at a traditionally all-black school, and these were all well staffed. Having earned his bachelors degree at Leland, Robinson returned to Baton Rouge and took a job at a feed mill for 25 cents an hour. Not long after that, he heard that the Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial InstituteNow Grambling State Universitywas searching for a new football coach. He applied for the job.

A Legend Begins His Career

In 1941, the 22-year-old Robinson assumed his duties as head football coach at Grambling State. The days of assistant coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators, and specialty coaches were long in the future, so Robinson did everything: He taught offense and defense, mowed the football field, fixed sandwiches for road trips through towns that would not serve blacks in restaurants, taped his players sore joints, and even wrote game stories for the newspapers. Then as now, he had strict standards of personal conduct and educational achievement for his players. In his first year the team went 3-5-1, but the following seasonduring which he recruited new players and dismissed those who did not live up to his expectationsthe Tigers had a perfect 9-0 season, going unbeaten, untied, and unscored on.

But Grambling State could not field a football team during the latter years of World War II, so Robinson spent 1943 and 1944 coaching at the high school level. He returned to Grambling in 1945 and began to forge his reputation with one simple incident in town. That year a parent pulled his two sons off the team and said they couldnt play anymore because they had to pick cotton. Robinson rounded up the entire football team, packed them into a bus, and they all went to the fathers farm to pick the cotton crop. Robinson got to keep his two star running backs on the team, and the publicity brought him new admirers.

In 1959 the Grambling Tigers joined the South West Athletic Conference. Between that year and 1994 the team won 16 conference championships or co-championships, and Robinson compiled an amazing 397-143-15 record. To appreciate the immensity of the coachs achievement, it is only necessary to compare him to the second-winningest coach in college football historyAlabamas Bear Bryant. Robinson passed Bryants win total of 323 games in 1985 and has turned in almost ten more winning seasons since then.

Enormous publicity attended Robinsons record-breaking win with Grambling State in 1985. Some observers feared that the coach would become the target of white hatred, much as Henry Aaron had when he broke Babe Ruths home run record. Instead Robinson reported that he did not receive a single hate letter, even from the legion of southern fans who worshipped Bear Bryant. When asked if his record was somehow tarnished by the fact that his team played most of its games against Division I-AA caliber competition, Robinson told Sports Illustrated: I grew up in the South. I was told where to attend elementary school, where to attend junior high school, where to attend high school. When I became a coach, I was told who I could recruit, who I could play, where I could play and when I could play. I did what I could within the system. He added that his philosophy had always been whatever league youre in, whatever level, win there.

Sports Illustrated contributor Reilly defended Robinson by comparing his accomplishments to those of the legendary Bryant. Discrimination and anorexic budgets were just two of the trapdoors the Bear didnt encounter, the reporter noted. Robinson recruited some 200 future NFL playersmore than any other schoolwith a yearly budget about equal to Alabamas outlay for stamps. He has recruited against major colleges offering prestigious scholarships, luxurious dorm rooms, plentiful training tables, big-time bowls, TV exposure and, as the NCAA is loath to find out, Lord knows what else. To this day the Grambling State team reaps most of its budget from gate receipts, rather than from the more reliable television revenues many big schools can expect.

Another achievement of lasting significance for Robinson came in 1988. That year, a former Grambling State player, Doug Williams, became the first black quarter-back to play in the Super Bowl. Williamss Washington Redskins won Super Bowl XXII by a wide margin, and Williams himself was named Most Valuable Player after completing 18 of 29 passes for 340 yards. Robinson, who watched the game from a place of honor in the stands, told the Detroit Free Press: For years I wanted desperately to find out what it would take to get a Grambling player to be an NFL quarter-back. I went to every NFL scout I knew. I talked with every former player we had in the NFL. We ran our offense like certain pro teams. I never accepted the fact that there couldnt be a black quarter-back, just like I never accepted the fact there cant be a black head coach or a black owner. Anything is possible in our society if people are willing to pay the price.

Paying the Price

Paying the price is a favorite theme of Robinsons. He reminds his playersand anyone else that he talks tothat America offers opportunities for everyone who works hard and tries diligently to succeed. Anything is possible in our society if people are willing to pay the price, he told the Detroit Free Press. Nobodys gonna give you anything Its competition, whether you want to compete or not. Having faced more than his share of discrimination over the years as a coach of an all-black team in the Deep South, Robinson is still unwilling to complain. I have feelings, he admitted in the Free Press, but Id rather say good things than bad things. In a Knight-Ridder wire story he elaborated on that theme. You know I stopped being a black coach a long time ago, he said. I am an American coach, and I try and do what every American coach tries to do. I want to win, make my boys better men and pass on those things that our society holds dearest.

Robinson and his wife, Doris, have discussed his retirement for 25 years, but he simply enjoys his work so much that he would hate to quit. In 1994, when he was 75, he turned in the usual winning season, coming just three games short of his 400th career victory. Robinsons working days begin at about 6:30 in the morning with his traditional bell-ringing wake-up visit to his players in their dormatory. He often stays in his office until nearly midnight. His son, Eddie Jr., is an assistant coach. Its just been so much fun, Robinson told the Detroit Free Press. Ive been paid to play I pity the guy who has a job that he doesnt enjoy doing. Numerous honors and awards have been heaped on the coach over the years. When Grambling dedicated its new $11 million football stadium, it was named after Robinson. The boulevard it is on is also named after Robinson. The 1994 season saw the debut of the Eddie Robinson Trophy, a national honor that will be bestowed yearly upon the best football player at a black college.

Reflecting on his career in Sports Illustrated, Robinson said: People can do what they want with the record. They can put an asterisk on it if they want. Thats their business. But look, I got my inspiration from all coaches, from college coaches and high school coaches, black and white And I worked hard, too. I busted my butt. I always knew my part to play, and if my part ended up having something to do with history, then Im happy. I never let anybody change my faith in this country. All I want is for my story to be an American story, not black and not white. Just American. I want it to belong to everybody. When the Washington Post pressed him to brag about his accomplishments, Robinson simply concluded, The real record I have set for over 50 years is the fact that I have had one job and one wife.

Sources

Detroit Free Press, February 1, 1988, p. 1F; September 6, 1990, p. 12E.

Newsday (Long Island, NY), December 4, 1994, p. 16.

Sports Illustrated, October 14, 1985, pp. 32-39.

Washington Post, September 22, 1994, p. 6B.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Grambling State University, Grambling, Louisiana, and Knight-Ridder wire stories, September 23, 1994; November 9, 1994; and November 25, 1994.

Mark Kram

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"Robinson, Eddie G. 1919—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Robinson, Eddie G. 1919—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/robinson-eddie-g-1919

"Robinson, Eddie G. 1919—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/robinson-eddie-g-1919