Doug Williams valued his relationship with former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson because it was always about more than football.
“He wasn’t a guy that everything that came out of his mouth was Xs and Os,” said Williams, who was quarterback for Robinson in the 1970s then followed him as coach at Grambling State in 1998. “Everything that he did and related to was about life. He related football to life. It was about being able to survive in America.”
Robinson passed legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant for career victories on Oct. 5, 1985, finishing with 408 career wins. Though that Division I record may one day fall, Williams said the way it was earned will stand the test of time.
“Coach Rob’s victories were tougher than anybody else’s,” said Williams. “The key wasn’t so much Division I or Division II. His was the tougher job because of the times. There was no practice equipment. They were playing on sand. They couldn’t even stay in town when they travelled.”
Robinson sent more than 200 players into the pros – of which four have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA, recognizes its best coach each year with an award named after Robinson, a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
He would lead Grambling State to 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles, despite facing dizzying obstacles at the tiny, rural school. Robinson’s easy-going approach to the challenge, and his straightforward nature, still resonate with Williams today.
“A leader is somebody that you have to believe in,” said Williams — who, after an all-conference career at Grambling, made history as the first black Super Bowl quarterback and MVP in 1988.
“Coach Rob was a person who had your attention. I can remember sitting in a meeting and he could say things that would get you in the frame of mind to do whatever it took to get it done.”
Robinson’s abiding patriotism sprang from a life’s journey that began as a sharecropper’s son, but ended in the company of presidents and hall of famers. He talked about that love for America in ways large and small, usually with a splash of self-deprecating humor.
“I will never forget that we had a guy named Michael Moore at tight end,” Williams said. “They were playing the National Anthem and Michael stood up with his fist in the air. Coach went up to him and said: `Don’t you ever clinch your fist like that — if you ain’t got no money in it.’ ”
Williams chuckles at the memory, now decades old.
“That made a lot of sense. That’s the American dream,” Williams said. “Coach Rob waved the flag better than anybody. He wanted everyone to believe that if can be accomplished, it can be happen in America. He preached that, because it was his life.”
Williams spent one of his career’s most important moments — celebrating on the field after leading Washington to the NFL championship — with his former college coach.
“I won the Super Bowl and credit all of that to Grambling and Eddie Robinson,” Williams said.
“That day, he told me: `You will not understand the impact of this until you get older.’ You know, he’s right? That’s the old saying, that you grow up and you realize that your daddy was right all along. I find myself to this day saying that about things Coach Robinson first told me.”
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For more on the Grambling Legends’ Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, to be held July 18 at the Civic Center in Monroe, visit http://www.gramlingsportshof.com.