Reaching milestones in college athletics is usually a time for jubilant celebration. Monday’s major college sports news was an exception.
Grambling University learned Monday its legendary football coach, Eddie G. Robinson, had regained his rank as the winningest coach in college football history.
The ranking, which Robinson lost just last year, came after the NCAA stripped Joe Paterno, another college football legend who had coached for decades at Penn State University, of all his victories from 1998 to 2011.
The harsh move by the NCAA was part of a sweeping penalty against Paterno, now deceased, and the university for failing to report their knowledge of alleged child alleged sex crimes committed by a former Paterno assistant coach.
The NCAA also fined the university $60 million (equivalent to a year’s revenue from its football program), barred Penn State from post season and bowl football games for four years and cut the number of football scholarships it can offer each year. The university did not challenge the decision.
Grambling State President Frank G. Pogue Jr., a former president of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for a decade, said he welcomed the NCAA decision, hastening to mute his enthusiasm with acknowledgment that he recognized today’s turn of events was the result of “a regrettable series of events” at Penn State.
“The Grambling State University family continues to recognize that what happened at Penn State University was an unfortunate tragedy that is much larger than athletics and football,” Pogue said in a statement. “…Because of the human being he was known to be, Eddie G. Robinson would have been the first person to express regrets about the tragedies that occurred at Penn State that led to the removal of Joe Paterno as head football coach of the Nittany Lions…,” Pogue said.
Former Sports Illustrated writer and political journalist George Curry said Robinson’s return to No. 1 by virtue of Paterno’s traumatic fall from grace in recent months and loss of credits for games does not lessen the importance of Robinson’s achievements during his 57 years as head coach at Grambling. In some respects, Robinson’s standing is enhanced, Curry said.
“I’m sure Eddie Robinson wouldn’t want it that way,” Curry said, referring to Paterno’s rapid fall from grace in the autumn of his career. “But he would have wanted people to play by the rules,” said Curry, author of Jake Gaither, America’s Most Famous Coach, a book about the late football coach at Florida A & M University.
“Eddie Robinson, Jake Gaither and John Merritt [the late football coach who propelled Tennessee State University to a college football powerhouse in the 1960’s and 1970’s] were fierce and competitive,” Curry said. “Nobody ever accused them of cheating or moral lapse,” he said.
A spokesman for Grambling, which opened the 8,000 square-foot Eddie G. Robinson Museum two years ago on the university’s campus, said the university expects more people will be coming to the museum, in light of the renewed focus on Robinson and his career.
The university announced Monday it was releasing a new online video about Robinson, who died in April, 2007. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his later years.
Aside from the host of tributes to Paterno sprinkled about the Penn State campus (a statute honoring him was removed from the campus this past weekend), Grambling and the University of Alabama are the only major colleges to have established high profile exhibits in honor of their football coaching legends. Alabama has a museum honoring the late Paul “Bear” Bryant.
During his career at Grambling, Robinson won more than 400 games and is credited with sending some 280 football players to the professional leagues, including current coach Doug Williams who was quarterback of Washington’s professional football team when it won the Super Bowl.