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Legend Remembers Legend -- Bobby Bowden Reflects On Late, Great Eddie Robinson

By Stewart Mandel
SI.com
April 4, 2007

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Spring is usually a slow time for coaches, but Bobby Bowden's office phone was ringing off the hook Wednesday from reporters wanting his reaction to the passing of legendary coach Eddie Robinson. Bowden, as he's wont to, chewed on a cigar as he sat behind his desk reflecting on a man he'd known for nearly 40 years.

"I've always loved Eddie," Bowden said about one of only two coaches in NCAA history to have won more games than him (St. John's John Gagliardi being the other). "The first time I met him was around 1968. I was an assistant coach at West Virginia, and he spoke up at Uniontown, Penn., at a big, big banquet. About 1,500 people there. I could tell right off the bat I liked him."

Though Robinson coached at a historically black college, Bowden credits the Grambling coach for playing a role in the integration of college football in the South during the 1960s and '70s.

"Eddie Robinson and Jake Gaither at [Florida A&M] played as big a role or bigger than anyone I know of in successfully integrating college athletics," said Bowden. "People were scared of this, people were scared of that. Eddie and Jake both took a very patient approach [with their fellow coaches]: 'This thing's going to work, it's going to be good, just take your time.' They were the two big guys.

"You hear about all the white guys, but within the coaching fraternity, I guarantee you Eddie Robinson and Jake Gaither had as much pull in making that thing successful as any two coaches in the country."

Bowden, who arrived at Florida State in 1976, knew Gaither, the coach at nearby Florida A&M from 1945 to '69, because Gaither lived in Tallahassee up until his death in 1994. Bowden said he and Robinson were mostly casual acquaintances who would run into each other at coaching clinics and other functions.

"It's a funny thing. I think about this sometimes," said Bowden. "Say 15 years ago, I'd go speak at a coaching clinic for the NCAA. Maybe it was in Houston. Maybe it was in Los Angeles. You might have 1,000 coaches out there. And who'd be sitting right in the very front row? Seventy-five-year-old Eddie Robinson. Back in those days, I would be thinking, 'Who in the world would want to coach when they're 75?' And here I am, 77.

"I used to tell my coaches, 'Men, we go to these coaching clinics to learn. Here's a guy who's 75 years of age, and he's still sitting there taking notes.'

"He was a great one."

News of Robinson's death triggered similar reactions throughout the coaching community on Wednesday.

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer: "Eddie Robinson was a great mentor to us all. He was a dynamic coach with a phenomenal record, but he was much more than that as a leader of young men, a great American and an example of character and integrity.

"My greatest off-the-field honor was winning the first Eddie Robinson Coach of Distinction Award and having the opportunity to spend time with him personally at banquets and at my home."

American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant Teaff: "The coaching profession has lost one of its true legends. Though he was best known for winning more football games than any other coach when he retired, Eddie Robinson's impact on coaching and the game of football went far beyond wins and losses. He brought a small school in northern Louisiana from obscurity to nationwide, if not worldwide, acclaim and touched the lives of hundreds and hundreds of young men in his 57 years at Grambling. That will be his greatest legacy.

 

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The Eddie G. Robinson Museum is a landmark that officially recognizes the outstanding contributions to the state of Louisiana, the nation, the world and the game of football made by Coach Eddie G. Robinson.  - more