College football and sports as a whole, lost one of its greats last night when longtime Grambling coach Eddie Robinson died at the age of 88 after battling Alzheimer's for the better part of the past decade.
Robinson's, and consequently, Grambling's success was due to the determination and passion that he brought to every aspect of his job, and he needed every bit of that to turn Grambling into a nationally recognized household name. Consider this - when he first got there in 1941, the school was still known as the Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute. Heading a program woefully short on resources in the segregated American South, he was forced to act as groundskeeper, trainer, and for lack of a better term, team mom, preparing sandwiches for his players for road trips.
In spite of the institutional obstacles in his way, he went on to achieve some remarkable feats in his six decades at the helm. His mark of 408 wins is the second most of all time in college football, and until it was topped by St. John's (MN) coach John Gagliardi four years ago, it stood alone as the record.
Perhaps most astonishing is his mentorship of over 200 NFL players, which averages out to about 3 or 4 Grambling players being selected per year by the league. There are programs in big time conferences that would kill to be able to churn out NFL players at a rate like that. Included in that fraternity are some real greats, including Doug Williams, Charlie Joiner, and Willie Brown.
In reflecting on his career, I wonder if we will ever see another coach with a career like Robinson's. If Robinson had coached in today's career-climbing obsessed game, schools from all over would surely be beating down his door trying to lure him to a bigger name program. To be so content and secure with the job, lifestyle, and constancy that he enjoyed for six decades is an incredible anomaly, and very well may be a product of the times he lived in. Even so, his was a fulfilling and wildly successful life by all accounts, and I'm sure he wouldn't have changed one bit of it.