After Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game Monday night to win its fourth FBS championship in the last seven seasons, everyone with access to an Internet connection or a microphone couldn’t wait to debate whether Nick Saban was the greatest college football coach of all-time.

Normally, such debates are cu-de-sacian in nature that lead to no where simply because of the difficulty attempting to evaluate the jobs of coaches who applied their trades that spanned eras of pre-scholarships, scholarship rewrites, segregation, integration and $45 million athletic budgets.


But Tampa Bay Times sports columnist and 620 WDAE sports talk radio host Tom Jones inexplicably discounted former Grambling State head coach Eddie Robinson possibly being regarded as the best ever, in part, because Grambling wasn’t a big-time college football factory like Alabama, Clemson or LSU.

Never mind that when Robinson retired, he was the Division I leader in wins with 408 as a head coach before his record was broken by disgraced Penn State head coach Joe Paterno.

Least we forget that Robinson, during his 55-year career as coach, was credited with coaching 111 players who would  appear in the NFL.

Those are just a few facts that could easily be recalled via Google or Wikipedia. But those notes didn’t seem to matter much to Jones Tuesday while responding to a caller to the Rick & Tom Show (how creative) who couldn’t fathom that an HBCU head coach — even one as great as Robinson — was qualified to be mentioned in the same breath as Saban.

“I mean it’s Grambling,” Jones said. “I don’t mean to downgrade…but who did they play? I love Eddie Robinson, but who did they play? Southern?”

There is a special kind of arrogance to feel comfortable enough being both ignorant and dismissive of historical context while attempting to appear knowledgeable.

That applied aptly to Jones.

Before southern universities realized that winning national championships could be accomplished in short order by allowing young black athletes to mingle on their all-white campuses, the best black football players were at HBCUs.

Grambling was Alabama with Everson Walls, Doug Williams and Tank Younger. Southern was LSU with Harold Carmichael and Mel Blount. Jackson State with Walter Payton and Jackie Slater was Ole Miss.

HBCU football was the SEC before full integration enticed black preps away from schools that racism left as the only options.

Without that migration in talent, Saban more than likely is not in the conversation of being placed on college football’s Mt. Rushmore.

Jones’ comments underscore a couple of things:

How easily the accomplishments of African-Americans can be dismissed if the feats fail to align with the standards set by white sensibilities.

The importance of reinforcing the value of black college sports and the individuals who’ve played roles in establishing its defined place influencing intercollegiate athletic spaces.

They’ve gone under appreciated otherwise.

The rest of the segment can be heard below.

 

About The Author

Kendrick Marshall

Editor for HBCU Sports, award-winning journalist, and a graduate of Jackson State University.

28 Responses

  1. Keith Benton

    Alabama, Clemson and LSU wouldn’t be power houses WITHOUT the passing of intergration…….Schools like Grambling would have beatened the snot out of Alabama in the 50’s AND 60’s……the Power 5 schools talent pool is 80% black which in part would have gone to HBCU’S before Civil Rights Laws were applied.

    Reply
    • Deb Watkins

      TRUE INFO. It is a typical response and shameful that people continue to choose to be ignorant and how blissful ignorance is. And so the story continues even in 2016. DISMISS HBCU? In reality you can’t.

      Reply
    • Walter Worthy

      Anyone who wishes to dismiss Eddie Robinson of Grambling Or the great SWAC & MEAC coaches of the 50s, 60s & 70s ask them why the “white” D-1 schools would not play them. If they answer honestly it would be because of segregation. It was because they were afraid of getting their tails whipped. Ask somebody who knows.

      Reply
    • Nathaniel Kennedy

      If the NFL African American players would speak up and demand that teams draft free black players from HBCU schools then things will get better HBCU were able to get the best high school players and be drafted at the end of the year then the players would not have chosen to go to all white schools

      Reply
    • Tommy Chambers, Xavier University of Louisiana

      Mr. Jones, did you play any sports, if so, what HS or Collge/University, others before me have stated the accomplishments of Coach Robinson, stop trying to pen Grambling State as well as the Coach in Negative Light!

      Reply
  2. Scott

    I don’t see what Jones said that had anything to do with race other than you saying that it has to do with race. Jones commented on the fact that Grambling is a smaller school. You played the race card and that is irresponsible journalism to make a story out of something that was not a story until you decided to make it one.

    Reply
    • Steve

      The reason it is race based is it was discounted because of who they played. At that time, the best players that happened to be black were at HBCUs as they had no where else to go.

      Reply
    • geo cooper

      SWAC football was superior to SEC football until integration. i don’t care if YOU don’t realize it was a racial statement. I know you white folks and I know when you say some racial bull. Eddie Robinson was the greatest coach in College Football history. I don’t care how many students a big SEC school had, the 11 they put on the field at any given time couldn’t beat the 11 from Grambling, or Southern, or TSU!

      Reply
      • Rodney

        I agree. I Played for GSU 1970-1974, WHY because they had the best coach and athletes. I did have an opportunity to go to LSU, but I would always wonder if I was good enough for the best!! Small college all American 1972. GSU. TIGER FOR LIFE!!

      • Richard

        Hmmmmm……I wonder how it would be taken if I as, “White Folks” ,
        would have stated as much the same about you “Black Folks”?

    • Ricky Williams

      Scott, to ignore the under tone in his statement is denial. You’re saying that he said that GSU was a smaller school and couldn’t compete because of that? Not true! Eddie Rob won the majority of his games during segregation and then until the mid 70’s before the great/majority of black athlete’s were being courted to come help elite white programs win vs their counterparts who were doing the same. You can’t ignore the FACT that before integration HBCU football was better than our todays SEC, and still would be today! So, take off the blinders!

      Reply
  3. Chris

    Scott, will you wake up please? There is an issue here, the fact that you can try and downgrade someone’s success, because “they didnt play anybody.” The facts show that before there was integration, the schools with the best athletes were HBCUs. They had to best talent, so how can you say they didnt play anybody? Because of the name on the program? Without integration, the black players stay at HBCUs and schools that are on top now, would have never been on top.

    Reply
  4. MB

    It has been said, Legendary Coach Bear Bryant convinced Gov. George Wallace to integrate The University of Alabama after taking his team to California to play an integrated USC only to have his ass handed to him. He knew they were never going to win a National Championship if they didn’t have a larger pool of talent to recruit. USC adopted the Black college style of football which was Big and fast, while the schools in the SEC remained true to Big, slow and conservative football. Bryant knew he wouldn’t stand a chance of beating Grambling or Tennessee State had they competed against each other.

    Reply
    • Roderick Bryant

      Bryant asked John McKay to bring his Trojans to Alabama, so the racist Tide fans could see with their OWN eyes how great Black players were…

      Reply
  5. Gabe

    The fact that Jerry Rice, who is largely considered the best player of All Time, played against Eddie Robinson in college, should show you the talent he faced. We won’t even get into Walter Payton, Steve McNair, Aeneas Williams, Michael Strahan,Shannon Sharpe, Mel Blount, Jackie Slater, Richard Dent, and Deacon Jones to name a FEW.

    Reply
  6. Ausean

    Let us not forget the reason bear bryant integrated. His defeat to an intergrated USC. I think coach Robinson should be included into any argument that has to do with best coaches period.

    Reply
  7. Jamaal Cherry

    You can argue that what Robinson did was more difficult. Truth is Saban is a frontrunner, who is great at jumping off a ship before it sinks. Every program Saban has been successful at was successful before he got there, and every time those programs began to fail Saban bailed. Even at Alabama, everytime they have a bad year you here about Saban looking elsewhere. Robinson used underated recruits, probably lackluster equipment, and low funding to build a powerhouse which produced more good football players and honorable men than any of these so called big schools. Saban is cheating and bringing in 25 all-americans every year. He doesnt make any of the dummy’s go to school, and he wins and gets rich off these kids and sends them back out in the streets.

    Reply
    • Kendrick Marshall
      Kendrick Marshall

      i wouldn’t say every program saban has coached at was successful before he got there. michigan state was nowhere near the power it is now when saban was the head coach there in the early 90s. LSU was just an average sec team before he got there, and alabama — although a program that has a rich tradition of winning — finished 5th in the sec west behind mississippi state the year before saban took over.

      like i said in the piece, it is difficult to measure which coach was the greatest of them all, because they all worked under different circumstances.

      Reply
  8. Charles Reynolds

    Saying Grambling is not in the same class as division I school records is no worse than saying Pat Summit is not the equivalent of John Wooden. The competition simply was not the same. To be the best you have to achieve at the highest levels of competition and neither Grambling, nor womens basketball are the highest levels of competition. Race is injected here needlessly.

    Reply
  9. P.

    This article was much needed and appreciated. It’s easy for today’s microwave society to forget about the accomplishments of HBCUs in college football especially when it comes to Eddie Robinson. Since he passed over a decade ago, it means that it’s part of ancient history. Caoch Rob did it the RIGHT way. Not only did his athletes make it to the NFL but they GRADUATED. Coach Rob didn’t have the choice of choosing 25-40 4-5 star athletes and ESPN/ABC slurping him up every chance.

    Maybe Scott needs to go and look at the FCS awards list and see that ALL of the major awards are named after SWAC athletes and even the Walter Payton MOTY in the NFL

    Reply
  10. eddiefan

    Ask the NCAA what their uderstanding of Great coaches of Eddie Robinson; Grambling; The Tiger Marching Band and the SWAC… Mention the Mirage Bowl in JAPAN… Brand(s)

    Reply

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