Eddie Robinson, the legendary football coach of Grambling State University for 56 years, has passed on but is being hailed as one of the most decent, inspiring, motivational figures for black men of the last half century. He transformed the small historically black college in Louisiana into a powerhouse of football talent. Given little money or staff and barely a field to practice on when he arrived in 1941, he eventually guided more than 200 players into the NFL and won 408 games over his expansive career. Most inspiring though was the way he stood his ground in the deep south as a proud man in the face of Jim Crow laws and a college football good-ol’-boy’s network that implied no black man could do as well as a white man…

Bill Currie, a former coach and current football analyst for ESPN told a story about "Coach Rob" attending his first American Football Coaches Association Meeting in the early 50’s. He was the only African-American in the room.

How would you feel if you were presumptuous enough to walk into the American Football Coaches Association Meeting in Evanston, Illinois as a black man in 1951? He didn’t think, ‘Golly, gee, I hope somebody will accept me’, or ‘I wonder if I’ll be allowed to listen to the clinics’. Eddie Robinson’s first thought was, ‘I wonder how long it will take me to become president of this organization.’

It took him 25 years.

In 1976 he was president of the American Football Coaches Association … He won every award, not just for winning games, but for his work in education. He made (his players) go to class… and graduate.

He taught good citizenship, recalled one colleague, and you never saw him get angry at anyone throughout all his years of struggling. (Even as he had to "fix sandwiches for road trips, because his players could not eat in the "white only" restaurants of the South.")

"The real record I have set for over 50 years," Eddie Robinson said awhile back, "is the fact that I have had one job and one wife."

Read the obituary in The Boston Globe

Leave a Reply