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.