By Keysha Hogan
People become legends because they are outstanding, time and time again. There is a dedication to excellence and unwavering ideals that set these resolved few apart. For the Grambling State University community their legend was Coach Eddie Robinson and they gathered in Dallas back in August to support his charity and honor his memory.
MVP of Super Bowl XXII and current head coach of the Grambling Tigers, Doug Williams spoke of his days as player under Coach Robinson. “It was tough being a player under Coach Robinson, there was a price you had to pay but he said you have to separate the men from the boys and only the strong survive. And I’m fortunate enough to be one of those men who survived,” said Robinson.
Just surviving wasn’t enough for Coach Robinson; he pushed them to succeed in spite of their obstacles. While coaching at Grambling he also held jobs at the local high school directing the band, coaching basketball, baseball and cheerleading on a budget of $46. He was determined to prepare the youth of his community to be competitive and not fall victim to circumstance.
In his 56 years as head coach, he retired with 45 winning seasons, 17 Southwest Athletic Conference Championships and nine Black College Football National Championships. He also sent over 200 players to the NFL, AFL and CFL combined. Coach Robinson is honored and revered because he used his life to help others fulfill their dreams.
The invaluable mentoring that Coach Robinson gave his players didn’t end after graduation or draft day. James “Shack” Harris, the first black player to start as a QB in the NFL said, “When I came into the NFL it was so important to him. He would call me every night to make sure I was getting the support that I needed. Those words of wisdom made a big difference in me being able to open the season as a starter.”
Current coach, Doug Williams has been doing his best to carry on the legacy that Coach Robinson started in 1941. “The most important thing for me is trying to get players to understand the legacy and history of Grambling State University and why a guy like Eddie Robinson should be honored. I think that’s something that tough to get across to them. It’s not about me; it’s about Grambling State University and the legacy that was built before me.”
Williams built upon that legacy as he became the new head coach in 1998. This season Williams is coaching his own son in the quarterback position and says it’s a joy because of the strong fatherly figure of Coach Robinson in his life. “Coach Rob and I never lost contact from the time I got to Grambling until the time he passed away. We’ve always talked 2 or 3 times a week. I can almost put myself in the position of being one of his surrogate sons. “
And there is no doubt that Coach Robinson was proud of all of his many protégés over his career. Players such as Willie Brown, Buck Buchanan, Charlie Joiner, and Willie Davis all studied under Coach Robinson at Grambling. With the strong foundation he provided they changed the face of professional football and ushered in an era of triumph in not only the historically black leagues but also across society.
“I think the biggest thing is that you take as many opportunities as you can to share with people how special this man was and what he’s done. I don’t think there’s ever been someone who’s done what he has done by touching so many lives and making a difference in this country like he has, “said “Shack” Harris.
The business of becoming a legend is a difficult road to undertake. But in Coach Robinson’s case he didn’t take that trip alone. He started out each year with a set of young men and made each of them his priority. He turned boys into men, and offered them his services as coach, father figure, mentor and friend.
To honor his memory the June Jones Foundation and SMU School of Education and Human Development have partnered together to raise funds for the 501 (C)(3) charitable Eddie Robinson Legacy Fund.