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Appreciation: A Tribute to Coach Eddie Robinson

There are many ways to speak of Coach Eddie Robinson. One could converse about the coach, the teacher, the father, the husband or simply Eddie Robinson the American hero. I have chosen to honor Coach Rob in the best way I know how; as Eddie Robinson, the football coach.

I was privileged to first see Coach at the 1971 American Football Coaches Association convention in Chicago. I personally met him five years later at the 1976 convention. He was one of the first revered coaches I was able to personally shake hands with. He was special; especially to any coach of color past, present or future.

The renowned writer and sports activist, Richard Lapchick, wrote a biography of Coach Robinson in 1999 entitled Never Before, Never Again because, as Lapchick stated, “there never was nor will be another man like Coach Robinson.” Lapchick is 100 percent correct.

He coached for 56 years; every single one at Grambling University. Sadly, in spite of being the second-winningest coach in the history of the NCAA, sending more than 200 players to the NFL and having a graduation rate of 80 percent; Eddie Robinson was never provided a single interview for any Division I-A university head coaching job. Coach retired at the end of the 1997 football season.

He had coached the first Black college player to make the NFL (Tank Younger), the first Black quarterback to start a play off game (James Harris) and the first Black quarterback to win the Super Bowl (Doug Williams).

While racial barriers built an unassailable wall around the brilliant garden of professional achievement he so meticulously manicured and sculptured, he plied his trade within the often obscure Grambling and historically Black college landscape. His career began and ended in a segregated society, albeit more socially conscious at the conclusion than at the beginning. The objective facts of the hiring inequities afforded aspiring collegiate coaches of color still remains an obstacle to advancement for Blacks. Gradually, the culture of collegiate sport began acknowledging this icon of the coaching profession.

Recently, Penn State University’s noted coach, Joe Paterno, stated in the Washington Post, “Our profession will never be able to repay Eddie Robinson for what he has done for the country and the profession of football.”

We can repay Coach Robinson. He made football a microcosm of the American dream for 56 years for Black athletes and coaches. Football can repay his legacy by ensuring we are inclusive and diverse in our hiring practices and acknowledgements of the many capable coaches of color who aspire to be head coaches.

Through services being held through today, we will pay tribute to Eddie Robinson. I hope all Americans realize how many aspiring coaches of color wish to follow in these footsteps if given an equitable opportunity to do so.

— Floyd Keith is executive director of the Black Coaches Association.


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