Eddie Robinson, the record-setting football coach who turned Grambling State into a nationally recognized power, ushered 210 players into the NFL and largely realized his vision of transforming the Louisiana school into the Notre Dame of historically black colleges, has died at 88.
Robinson died Tuesday night at Northern Louisiana Medical Center in Ruston, the university announced. The cause of death was not specified, but he had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Starting in 1941 at age 22, Robinson coached at Grambling for 57 years and had a mark of 408-165-15 when he was forced to retire in 1997.
His 408 wins stood as the most by a football coach at any collegiate level until November 2003, when John Gagliardi surpassed Robinson by gaining his 409th victory for St. John's, a Division III school in Minnesota.
"The coaching profession has lost one of its true legends," Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, said in a statement. "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."
At the peak of his power, Robinson proudly paraded his Tigers teams on "barnstorming" tours. The school hired a public relations director to orchestrate a national campaign as Grambling scheduled games against other historically black schools at venues that included Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl and the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Robinson's effect on college football was profound. His Grambling teams won nine National Black College championships and 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and had only eight losing seasons.
In 1949, Grambling star Paul "Tank" Younger joined the Los Angeles Rams, becoming the first player from a historically black college to sign with an NFL team.
Four former players - Buck Buchanan, Willie Davis, Willie Brown and Charlie Joiner - are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
On Jan. 31, 1988, with Robinson seated in the stands in San Diego, former Grambling star quarterback Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to a win over the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Williams, the first black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl, threw four touchdown passes and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
"For the Grambling family, this is a very emotional time," Williams said yesterday. "But I'm thinking about Eddie Robinson the man, not in today-time but in the day and what he meant to me and to so many people."
Robinson was affectionately known as "Coach Rob" and liked to boast his proudest accomplishment was "having one job and one wife."
Yet, his nearly six-decade tenure at Grambling transcended dramatic social change. Robinson navigated his teams through Jim Crow laws in the 1940s and the civil rights movement.
Robinson was a champion of equal rights who tried to effect change by working within established boundaries and avoiding confrontation. He believed the success of Grambling players, on and off the field, served to advance the cause of civil rights.
Even at the height of civil unrest in the 1960s, Robinson insisted his players stand at attention during the playing of the national anthem.
"I don't believe anybody can out-American me," Robinson said often.
Edward Gay Robinson, the son of a sharecropper and a domestic worker, was born Feb. 13, 1919, in Jackson, La. His parents, who later divorced, moved to Baton Rouge when Eddie was 8.
Robinson played at McKinley High School and later starred at quarterback for now-defunct Leland College in Baker, La., and coach Reuben Turner, who tutored Robinson on coaching techniques. Robinson earned a bachelor's degree in English from Leland and later a master's degree in physical education from the University of Iowa.
In addition to his wife of 65 years, Robinson's survivors include son Eddie Robinson Jr., a player and assistant coach under his father at Grambling, and daughter Lillian Rose Robinson, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Chris Dufresne writes for the Los Angeles Times.
Here are some of the 210 NFL players who played for Eddie Robinson, who died Tuesday.
WILLIE BROWN, DB -- Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994; won two Super Bowls with Raiders.
BUCK BUCHANAN, DT -- Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990; won one Super Bowl with Chiefs.
WILLIE DAVIS, DE -- Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981; won two Super Bowls with Packers.
CHARLIE JOINER, WR -- Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996; caught 750 passes.
WINNINGEST NCAA FOOTBALL COACHES
Listed by number of wins
443 -- John Gagliardi
Years: 1949 - present
Winning pct.: .781
408 -- Eddie Robinson
Years: 1941 - 1997
Winning pct.: .707
366 -- Bobby Bowden
Years: 1959 - present
Winning pct.: .762
363 -- Joe Paterno
Years: 1966 - present
Winning pct.: .748
323 -- Bear Bryant
Years: 1945 to 1982
Winning pct.: .780