Eddie Robinson (1919-2007)

Eddie Robinson, ca. 1980
Courtesy College Football Hall of Fame, Fair use image

With 408 career victories at Grambling State University, Eddie Robinson is the most successful football coach in Division I history. In 1985 he surpassed Paul William “Bear” Bryant’s record set at Alabama with 324 wins.  Under Robinson, the Grambling Tigers posted three undefeated seasons, seven single-loss seasons, and set an all-time NCAA Division I-AA record 27 consecutive winning seasons from 1960 to 1986.  Robinson’s teams won 17 championships in Southwestern Atlantic Conference and 9 Black College National Championships. Under his tenure, more than 80 players joined the National Football League (NFL) including Charlie Joiner, Willie Brown, and Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to lead a National Football League (NFL) team to a Superbowl victory (the Washington (D.C.) Redskins over the Denver (Colorado) Broncos in 1988).

Edward Gay Robinson was born February 12, 1919 to third generation sharecroppers in the small farming community of Jackson, Louisiana. His parents moved Eddie at the age of eight to Baton Rouge. Young Robinson was an only child who credits his father, Frank, in encouraging him to study and make the best use of his time.

Robinson attended McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, and although he was small in stature, he worked his way up to starting quarterback. Despite his having little experience playing football, Robinson led McKinley High to three straight undefeated seasons.

After graduation in 1937 Robinson enrolled in Leland College, a small Baptist institution, in Baker, Louisiana. He quarterbacked the football team for all four seasons, while working as the campus barber and operating a coal truck for 20 cents an hour to pay tuition. Robinson, an English major, graduated from Leland in 1941 and eventually earned his masters from the University of Iowa in 1954.

Eddie Robinson was hired in 1941 by Dr. Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, president of Grambling State University, as the head of the physical education department, athletic director, head football coach, and temporary head coach of both the men’s and women’s basketball teams.  Robinson also recalled that he mowed and lined the field, sewed torn uniforms, taped ankles, coached the cheerleaders squad, directed the band, and wrote game accounts for the Louisiana newspapers.  Robinson’s first season at Grambling resulted in a 7-3 overall record.  In his second season as head coach the Tigers went undefeated at 8-0.  In that remarkable season the Tigers didn’t allow any of their opponents to score a single point.

Although, Robinson didn’t coach for two years during World War II due to a shortage of players, he resumed coaching in 1946 and remained at Grambling until his retirement in 1997. Over his career Robinson won numerous honors including the Walter Camp Foundation’s Distinguished American Award, the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award, and the NCAA’s Special Recognition Award after he broke Bear Bryant’s record in 1985. In 1993 he won the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award. The National Football Foundation inducted him into the College Football Hall of Fame upon his retirement in 1997.

In 1941 Robinson married childhood sweetheart Doris Mott and the couple had three children.  Edward “Eddie” Gay Robinson, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, died in Grambling, Louisiana on April 3, 2007.  He was 88.