One of the greatest coaches in the history of college football and one of the America’s true pioneers, Eddie Robinson died Tuesday night at the age of 88, after a lengthy battle with Alzhimer’s disease.
The “Black Vince Lombardi” spent 55 seasons at Grambling State University carving out a legacy unmatched in the sport. The numbers are staggering: 408 victories and over 200 players sent to the NFL, including seven first-round draft picks and one Super Bowl MVP in Doug Williams.
But more than his impressive numbers, Robinson lifted a small school and town to national prominence and became an icon for Blacks everywhere as the most recognizable and successful Black coach they could identify with.
“He was a man who opened doors for young black men in America,” said Anthony Simmons, who played outside linebacker at Grambling from 1967-71.
Born to a sharecropper in Jackson, Louisiana, in 1919, Robinson was hired in 1941 to coach the Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute, which later became Grambling State.
He wore many hats while at Grambling, including serving as head coach for baseball and basketball as well as serving as athletic director.
Robinson was more than just a coach, however, he was “a leader of young men” as Simmons put it. At a time when Blacks were still being treated as second-class citizens in America, especially the South, he gave young men and an entire region a role model for success.
Players said he was a tough, demanding coach who was a stickler for the rules such as always making his players wear shirts and ties on the road.
Noel Foucher, who played baseball at Grambling from 1966-70, described how Robinson would take away his players’ monthly stipend of $10 if he found them around campus with their shirts untucked or wearing tennis shoes with no socks.
“He was very firm in that and he believed that if we were going to be good students, we had to project ourselves in a different way,” Foucher said.
Foucher added that he always respected Robinson “because he was a man that wanted all of his players to get an education.”
When he retired in 1997, Robinson did so as “the winningest coach” in football history. But his impact goes far beyond the chalk lines as few people in America can