Saturday, January 16, 2016

Here's Why Eddie Robinson and Other HBCU Football Coaches Are Just as Good or Better, Mr. Tom Jones


I've heard from several people this week who have asked me what I thought about what a sports columnist and talk show host in Tampa Bay said a few days ago about famed Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson.

According to reports,, Tom Jones, who is with the Tampa Bay Times and 620 WDAE basically said Robinson couldn't carry Alabama head football coach Nick Saban's whistle.

Jones' point really is that Robinson coached against, well, the likes of Southern (the only team he could name that Grambling played, along with not being able to figure out what conference they play in).  Robinson didn't have big games against big teams so he can't be compared to a Bear Bryant at Alabama or, ahem, Joe Paterno at Penn State.

Understandably, all my HBCU sports backer friends are upset.  Not only is this a clumsily reached conclusion, this guy is trying to judge something he knows very little about.

First, he's wrong.  Eddie Robinson is one of the top five college football coaches of all time.  I'd say top three, without any kind of order.  Whether Nick Saban is in there, I won't say that yet.  He's had a tremendous run at Alabama though, I admit -- and I'm a Tennessee graduate, so that's hard for me to say.

But the Sabans, Paternos and Bryants of the world had big money programs, unending amounts of money to use on coaches, assistants, weight programs, facilities, etc.  Robinson had NONE of that. He had nothing to work with.  His players were super raw, unlike high school players who train to become college athletes as freakin middle schoolers.  Robinson was teaching linebackers to tackle, kickers to kick, quarterbacks to throw and coaches to coach.

Most of the talented black players weren't going to play for Bear Bryant in Robinson's day.  The kind of schools where Bryant and other white guys coached wouldn't let them in the door.  So they went to not only Grambling, but they played at Mississippi Valley State, Jackson State, Tennessee State, Florida A&M, Tuskegee and a slew of other historically black colleges and universities.
Big John Merritt
Wonder who Robinson's teams were playing?  Try Tennessee State, where the legendary Big John Merritt won more than 200 games coaching players and teams that mauled competition regularly.  Or maybe Florida A&M where Jake Gaither's teams did much the same. In conference (the Southwestern Athletic Conference or SWAC, for your info, Mr. Jones) was W.C. Gordon's Jackson State teams. By the way, all three of those coaches are in the College Football Hall of Fame.  And if you look at those teams, you'll find some NFL superstars and Hall of Famers from those schools.

Jake Gaither
Okay, so Mr. Jones may not know those teams.  I will allow him to be ill-informed and only know a very white-washed version of college football history -- for a minute.

Know why Robinson's teams never had what Jones calls a big game against a big team?  The Bear Bryants of the world REFUSED to play them.  Why?  Because they knew teams at Jackson State, Florida A&M, Tennessee State, Grambling or many other HBCUs would hand them their heads on a plate of gumbo on a cold Saturday afternoon.

And dont think for one minute it was some wild, throw some negroes on the field and throw them a football and let them run around.  Nope.  Offenses run by Robinson and Merritt were intricate and unstoppable.  Their defenses, big, fast, smart and disciplined.   The white college football establishment knew good and well that the black athlete would wreck their system.  So to make sure that system wasn't wrecked, they did what any caring group of people would do -- they made them part of the system, which basically wrecked historically black college football as the bright lights, television and money lured the black athlete away from schools still struggling to keep their playing fields playable.

HBCU football isn't what it use to be.  That raiding of black players is part of the reason.  But another big part of it today is that historically black colleges and universities continually under-utilize, underfund and underestimate historically black college athletics.  HBCU administrators are pinching pennies these days, many struggling to keep their entire schools open.   But many are run by people who just completely miss the boat on what a solid athletic program can do to ENHANCE the historically black college.  It's a shame.

Anyway, Mr. Jones eventually saw that he was a bit off-base when a caller, a veteran football coach who is African American and well-schooled in the HBCU football tradition, told him a few things. And his co-host, who thought Jones was bananas in saying Eddie Robinson couldn't be called one of the best college football coaches ever, kind of shamed him too.

"I'm just going to give up," he said at the end of the conversation.

Good idea.  Your white male privilege in judging black college sports you admit to knowing very little about -- and then proudly coming to a flawed conclusion about one of the greatest coaches ever -- just oozed out, dude.