Eddie Robinson "...he was the Martin Luther King of Football"

Heard But Not Seen

Life story of iconic Grambling football coach cited for excellence in both biography and historical non-fiction

Eddie Robinson "...he was the Martin Luther King of football" – Denny Dressman's biography of the historic black football coach who led tiny Grambling to 408 victories in 57 years and opened the National Football League to black athletes – is the recipient of two awards.

The book earned a finalist award for biography in the 2010 Colorado Book Awards, presented by Colorado Humanities and the Center for the Book.

The biography also was awarded a finalist medal in historical non-fiction in the 2010 Next Generation Indie National Book Awards presented by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group.

"My goal when I began working on the book was to write a credible biography of this historic American, and to capture the historic half-century of segregation and liberation during which he accomplished and contributed so much," Dressman said. "To have the book receive accolades as both a biography and a work of historical non-fiction is very gratifying."

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Eddie and Darrell Royal Photo courtesy of the American Football Coaches Association Eddie receives the president's gavel from outgoing president Darrell Royal of the University of Texas, signaling the beginning of Eddie's year as the first black president of the American Football Coaches Association in 1976.

EDDIE ROBINSON consistently told everyone he encountered that "America is the greatest country in the world," and overcame racial discrimination with quiet, humble achievement. "To me, he was the Martin Luther King of football," said retired Jackson State coach W.C. Gorden, a long-time friend and adversary who joined Robinson in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Thousands who paid tribute upon Robinson's death in 2007 share Gorden's view.

Covering six decades, Robinson's coaching career paralleled the Jim Crow era of segregation in the Deep South and every major event of the Civil Rights Movement. His historic tenure spanned 11 U.S. Presidencies and four wars involving American troops – 57 years all at the same university: Grambling.

Robinson's teams won 408 games, making him the first, and one of only two coaches, to win more than 400 football games in a career. Most importantly, by grooming and mentoring two players – Paul "Tank" Younger and James "Shack" Harris, he opened pro football to athletes from historically black colleges and undermined stereotypes that excluded black players from leadership positions in the game.

Under Robinson the Grambling football program became nationally known for developing players who achieved stardom in the National Football League. From the late 1960s through the early 1980s, only Notre Dame had more former players on NFL rosters than Grambling. More than 200 of Robinson's players played pro football, and four have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Willie Davis of the Green Bay Packers, Willie Brown of the Oakland Raiders, Buck Buchanan of the Kansas City Chiefs and Charlie Joiner of the San Diego Chargers. A fifth, Doug Williams, was the first black quarterback to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft and became the first black quarterback to win the Most Valuable Player Award in a Super Bowl.

Robinson emphasized getting an education and being prepared for the profound changes that he was certain would come in American society, and many say his most enduring legacy are the thousands of men and women who became productive, successful contributors in adulthood by following his example of responsibility and hard work.

"The man is a peerless legend," said Charlie Joiner, one of four members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame coached by Robinson. "He's a legend not just in Louisiana, but all across America. He's one of the biggest legends in the black world – in black America – there ever has been."

"He must be looked upon as one individual who made a major contribution to the cause of racial equality in America," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the early 1960s and a highly respected member of Congress, during his 12th term.

"When he took the reins at Grambling, segregation was still the law in Louisiana," then-Governor Kathleen Blanco said in a tribute to Robinson upon his death. "But even that could not stop his determination and belief that in America, anyone could succeed. Over the years Coach Rob leveled the playing field both in football and in life for all of us."

EDDIE ROBINSON: " ... he was the Martin Luther King of football" places Eddie Robinson's career as one of America's sports icons, his life as an influential leader of his race, and the growth of the Grambling football program in the larger context of the Civil Rights Movement and other moments in American history. Each reader is invited to reach a personal, individual conclusion regarding W.C. Gorden's characterization based on Robinson's actions and contributions when viewed through the prism of his time.

This biography is based on interviews with dozens of people who encountered Robinson in a variety of ways, including U.S. Congressman John Lewis, who is a former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who was head football coach at Jackson State and Texas Southern and faced Robinson 10 times; and retired Grambling president Raymond Hicks, numerous former players and coaches, university associates, sports writers, friends and former Grambling students. The work also relies on extensive research into six decades of college football events and a half-century of civil rights history.

R1986 AFCA convention Photo courtesy of the American Football Coaches Association Eddie is presented with a special award by University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley at the 1986 AFCA convention, recognizing him as the college football coach with the most victories in history after Eddie won his 324th game to surpass his good friend, Bear Bryant of Alabama.
"The profundity of Eddie Robinson is found in Dressman’s flair for weaving Robinson’s life into the fabric of U.S. race relations and social history in the 20th century. Eddie Robinson is an enthralling narrative..."
Review by Prof. Kevin L. Brooks, Paine College
in the Journal of African American History


Published by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History

Volume 96, No. 4 Fall 2011

Special Issue

"African Americans and the History of Sport"

Reprinted with permission


Denny Dressman, Eddie Robinson "... he was the Martin Luther King of football."
Denver, CO: ComServ Books, 2010, Pp. 374. Paper $24.95

In Eddie Robinson, Denny Dressman chronicles the life of one of football's legendary coaches, and in so doing demonstrates how "Coach Rob" was as influential on collegiate playing fields as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was during the modern Civil Rights Movement.  Dressman's prose paints the near century-long life of Robinson against the backdrop of U.S. race relations, combining the academic and intellectual traditions of United States, African American, southern and sports history. The book is divided into six parts and contains forty chapters, beginning with an epitaph that provides an overview of Robinson's influence on U.S. sports, and concludes with a commemorative statement about the life of this sports giant.

Eddie Robinson is an enthralling narrative of the life of a young man from the plantation town of Jackson, Louisiana, approximately thirty miles north of Baton Rouge. While opportunities for African Americans were limited there, young Robinson sought to make something of his life through hard work, education, and athletics. Robinson's parents did not complete elementary school, yet they instilled in him the importance and value of formal education. Moreover, Robinson fervently believed that "anything is possible in America," a nation he considered to be "the greatest country in the world." Robinson's strong work ethic and steadfast commitment to achieving his goals, characteristics he learned from his father Frank, a sharecropper, and his mother Lydia, a domestic worker, would serve him well as Robinson sought to break into the college coaching ranks.

After finishing high school, Robinson enrolled at Southern University in Baton Rouge for a brief stint before transferring to nearby Leland College in Baker, Louisiana. At Leland, he completed his coursework while excelling on the gridiron (he would later earn a master's degree from the University of Iowa). After graduating from Leland, finding a coaching job proved difficult so he pursued any available work that would help pay the bills. Luckily, he had a knack for securing employment. Before his coaching career began, Robinson's uncle taught him how to cut hair, a skill Robinson maximized during his high school and college years. Inspired by heavyweight champion Joe Louis, Robinson even tried his hand at boxing, but that was short-lived. Other jobs included working at a fish market an oil refinery and a local mill. Finally, Robinson landed a coaching position at Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute (now Grambling State University). As head coach, Robinson's duties included "moving and lining the field, directing the drill team, driving the team bus, and providing services similar to that of a sports information director, athletic director, athletic trainer, and strength and conditioning coach." Robinson also coached the basketball team. During hard economic times, he coached high school football and girls basketball. Robinson used his experiences as a student-athlete and position as a collegiate coach to help transform the lives of those he encountered. His objectives were to make sure his players graduated and to help them become productive citizens.

The profundity of Eddie Robinson is found in Dressman's flair for weaving Robinson's life into the fabric of U.S. race relations and social history in the 20th century. Utilizing a range of primary and secondary sources, Dressman narrates Robinson's life story outlining a milieu of social, political, and economic despair and trepidation. He recounts these unstable times through the interviews and sentiments of coaching legends and gridiron greats such as Joe Paterno, W.C. Gorden, Ace Mumford, Marino Casem, Doug Williams, Willie Davis, Willie Brown, Charlie Joiner, James "Shack" Harris, basketball star Bob Hopkins, and many more. He covers the trials and tribulations of the Great Migration, the 1919 Red Summer, World War II, the Baton Rouge and Montgomery bus boycotts, the student sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, while emphasizing the stories of Emmitt Till, James Meredith, Fannie Lou Hamer, and others. Dressman highlights the significance of the black newspapers such as the Chicago Defender, Baltimore Afro-American, Pittsburgh Courier, New York Amsterdam News, and the California Eagle as the leading voices on employment, politics, sorts, and cultural norms and practices. He also presents Robinson's accomplishments in relation to other iconic figures such as Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Woody Strode, and Earl Lloyd. In the course of setting the historical stage, Dressman explains how Robinson worked tirelessly to prevent his players from getting involved in protests, marches, sit-ins, and boycotts. Robinson insisted their role in the civil rights struggle consist of demonstrating that they could compete with the best teams on the field, enhancing the profile of their college, graduating, and making something of their lives. Another little know detail that Dressman underscores is that Robinson was also instrumental in helping women students achieve their goals, allowing some to reside in his home with his family so they could complete their education. Although Eddie Robinson is well written and the arguments are presented clearly, one drawback of the book is the small number of illustrations; however, this minor detail does not take away from the incisiveness of the book.

Robinson's tenure as a coach, educator, and father figure serves as a model to those seeking a career in athletics. Given that he amassed 409 wins; played football games in Mississippi Veterans  Stadium, Yankee Stadium, the Superdome, as well as in Hawaii and Tokyo, Japan; and sent more than 200 players to the professional ranks, Robinson is considered one of the greatest coaches in sports history. Dressman's biography offers several lessons that can have a lasting effect on any athletic or educational program. Then involve empowering and enriching the lives of youth, developing and nurturing students' intellectual acumen and personal growth, building institutional alliances and community networks, and fostering productive relationships among stakeholders. Eddie Robinson should appeal to a broad audience. It is a primer for those interested in careers in sports or sports-related fields. It is also a contribution to African American and sports history, sport management and pedagogy, coaching education, and physical education.

Kevin L. Brooks

Paine College

"A poignant and powerful story of a humble life that had monumental impact. It taught me much about this great American."
Chris Fowler
ESPN Game Day

"The Eddie Robinson biography by Denny Dressman is a must read for ALL Americans. It is thoughtful, honest, provocative and informative, and should be read by sports lovers and non-sports lovers alike."
Aubrey Bruce, Senior Sports Columnist,
The New Pittsburgh Courier

by Aubrey Bruce, for New Pittsburgh Courier
(Reprinted with permission)

"Weel about, an' turn about an' do jis so. Eb'ry time I weel about, I jump Jim Crow."
(From the biography of Eddie Robinson)

Most sports biographies that are submitted for me to review I usually decline with a courteous e-mail or letter to the author or his/her publisher. I was about to repeat that response when I received an e-mail from Steve Caulk, publicist for Denny Dressman, author of ”Eddie Robinson, the Martin Luther King of football.” Just when I was about to type the words “no can do” an unexplained feeling came over me. I retrieved the phone number of Steve Caulk from my inbox and the rest is history.

 I have come to the conclusion that every American, not just Black Americans, should read this chronicle of the history, struggle, perseverance, courage and majesty of an African-American and his country.

He begins the book not by profiling the triumphs of Coach Robinson. He spotlights one of the most visible and vocal advocates of racial superiority of the 19th century, John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was a native South Carolinian who served as vice president to two presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson from 1825 to 1832. Dressman points out that “Calhoun was nicknamed ‘the cast-iron man’ because of his steadfast defense of his beliefs, which including slavery. Calhoun died almost 11 years before the start of the Civil War but still was acknowledged as a driving force behind the secession movement.”

This proves that views negative or positive may live and breathe beyond the grave. Calhoun and his opinions may be more responsible for the bloodshed of the Union and Confederacy than the fingers of the soldiers who squeezed the triggers.

Dressman also aptly retraces the missteps of the 19th century United States Supreme Court. The high or should we say “low” court that became a passionate and willing partner in perverting our judicial process, blatantly ignoring and dishonoring the American Constitution by overtly creating and validating a system of “American apartheid” that became an adequate substitute for the illegal and immoral servitude of a particular race.

The gang of “injustices” from our country’s highest court issued the Dred Scott decision based on a medieval-type opinion that ”people of African descent brought into the United States as slaves – as well as their descendants – whether or not they were slaves, were not citizens and could not become citizens, and thus were not covered by the Bill of Rights. The ruling also established that slaves wee chattel – property – who could not be taken away from their owners without due process.”  The author says that “together these two warped views would shape the ideology of the White South through the Civil War and decades beyond.”

The book effortlessly peels away the flawed, infected and decadent layers of segregation and its byproducts, providing insight and information for those who may not be aware, and awakens those in the new millennium who may have slipped into a comatose state as a result of the lingering anesthesia of false accomplishments and superficial community revolution.

If not for “Jim Crow” there would have been no need for Eddie Robinson and others like him. The manhood, methods and morals of Coach Robinson were thrown into the furnace of racial intolerance but were cast, cooled, hardened and sharpened by the waters of change.

“Jim Crow never took up residence in the all-Black enclave of Grambling, La. There were no ‘colored’ drinking fountains or bathrooms, no ‘Whites-only’ lunch counters,” Dressman wrote. “We were so self-contained,” said Sheree Rabon, “I didn’t understand racism and discrimination and things people were going through until I moved away as an adult.”

“You had to leave Grambling to get involved in civil rights activities,” said John Williams, a resident as far back as the early ‘50s. Charlie Joiner concurred.  “We were kind of immune from demonstrations and riots and all that kind of stuff because Grambling is in the middle of nowhere. The closest group of Whites in those days was Ruston. But even the people in Ruston kind of cherished Coach Robinson because he was THE person in Louisiana.” Or, as Rabon put it, “The things Coach Robinson was doing made the Whites want to come to us. They wanted to be part of it.” Bigotry and isolation forced Eddie Robinson to become the “father of invention” and to play the hand that was dealt to him and his athletes.

This work in its entirety indelibly etches upon the consciousness of the reader the sequence of the evolution of a man and a nation. We are given far more than any mere essay could provide us based solely upon the victories and defeats of a coach and his athletes.

Denny Dressman has written the biography of the larger-than-life Coach Eddie Robinson. He has created a gem that gives us all access to an historical time machine that is without boundaries.

"The book ties in events of Robinson's life and work with what was going on around him at the time in America. I couldn't recommend it more highly."
John Erardi, Columnist
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The final word on a football great

Curiosity leads Beechwood grad to write definitive book on Grambling's Robinson

By John Erardi, The Cincinnati Enquirer
February 18, 2010 (Reprinted with permission)

Denny Dressman graduated from Beechwood High School in 1964, aware that some landmark civil rights legislation was waiting to be passed in Congress.

He did not know, of course, that 45 years later he would be hard at work on "Eddie Robinson: He was the Martin Luther King of Football," the first real biography on the Grambling University football coach.

The book ties in events of Robinson's life and work with what was going on around him at the time in America.

If you're a baby boomer who grew up with vague memories of Martin Luther King Jr.'s work in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this book is a great way to reconnect with some of those headlines.

I asked Dressman why he chose to do a biography on Robinson. After all, this former journalist in Louisville, Cincinnati, Denver and Oakland, who recently retired, could have done a book on just about anybody.

Dressman said his curiosity was piqued when he observed that Robinson's death in 2007 generated only a relatively brief six- to eight- paragraph story in the Denver newspapers.

"I knew Robinson was bigger than that," Dressman said. "When I was going to Beechwood, the AFL (American Football League) was just getting started and I knew that the AFL was a little more open to black players than the NFL. I was aware of Robinson and Grambling (a historically black university) because they had sent so many players to the pros. I was curious how Robinson had gone about breaking those barriers, but I never looked into it."

Among the AFL players whom Robinson coached who ultimately would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame were Buck Buchanan of the Kansas City Chiefs, Willie Brown of the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, and Charlie Joiner of the old Houston Oilers, who later would play for the Bengals in the NFL.

Robinson also coached Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Davis of the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, who was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXII, while they were in college at Grambling. Williams succeeded Robinson at Grambling in 1998.

"Grambling (La.) is this tiny little place," Dressman marvels. "Back then it was the most backwater place you can imagine. There are high schools in Denver with 3,600 students, and yet Grambling (University) isn't that much bigger - 4,200. Eddie Robinson set out to make it the black Notre Dame of college football, and he achieved it. His teams played in 28 states, regularly played in New York City and twice played in Tokyo."

After Dressman saw the short story about Robinson in the Denver newspaper, he went looking for something more in-depth about the coach. There were longer stories about Robinson in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, but still not enough to satisfy him.

Dressman then went looking for a book about Robinson. There was an autobiography, but no biographies.

Dressman took a course on writing narrative history and twice read Nigel Hamilton's primer on writing biographies. The journalistic juices kicked in - Dressman had spent many intervening years in the administrative and labor relations end of the newspaper business since his early days as a reporter - but he found his news-gathering skills needed only a little dusting, kind of like getting back on your 10-speed.

From November 2008 to October 2009, the work on the book about Robinson consumed the major portion of Dressman's life.

There were trips to Louisiana, personal interviews and many phone calls with those who had known Robinson . Dressman pored over clippings from newspapers and magazines and interviewed more than 40 former players, coaches, friends and associates.

"One aspect that was moving for me was researching and writing about events that didn't directly affect me during my youth but were things I was aware of," he said. "I was 12 when they called out the National Guard to integrate Central High School in Little Rock (during school desegregation). I remember watching on TV the marches and the firehoses and the police dogs (used against protesters)."

Dressman's book is available at Amazon .com, Borders.com and Comservbooks.com.

I couldn't recommend it more highly.

"Denny Dressman's new biography... was partially written to educate those not familiar with (Eddie Robinson's) story and more than half-century at the Louisiana college. And it was written for those who didn-t live through the turbulent 1960s, a decade that helped define Robinson's legacy."
Reid Cherner, Eye-opener columnist
USA Today

Eye—opener: New book likens Grambling coach to King

By Reid Cherner, USA Today
May 18, 2010, (Reprinted with permission)

Eddie Robinson, winner of 408 games at Grambling, was one of the most successful and influential football coaches in history.

Denny Dressman's new biography — Eddie Robinson... he was the Martin Luther King of football — was partially written to educate those not familiar with his story and more than half—century at the Louisiana college.

And it was written for those who didn't live through the turbulent 1960s, a decade that helped define Robinson's legacy.

"I was struck with the realization that generations of Americans really have no concept of Little Rock or Montgomery or Birmingham or any of the major points in the civil rights movement," Dressman said.

"And for all of them, Martin Luther King was never a living, breathing person, and for that reason most of them can't appreciate someone like Eddie Robinson. Or the difference of athletics now and what it was like in that period. So I would hope that anyone who picks up the book comes away with a greater realization between the difference of now and then."

The author build a major portion of the book around the King quote from former Jackson State coach W.C. Gorden that is the basis for the title.

"I went into this with real great concern to not in any way diminish Martin Luther King or minimize what he accomplished, or trivialize it in any way," Dressman said.

"Everyone I interviewed, I invited them to shoot it down, to disagree with me. To my pleasant surprise, not only did they agree but a great many of them wished they had said what W.C. Gorden had said."


Q&A with author Denny Dressman

The following interview is reprinted with permission of USA Today. It is available online at Game On! :

Book 'em: Eddie Robinson

Eddie Robinson, who won more than 400 games at Grambling, was one of the most successful and influential coaches in history.

Denny Dressman's new biography — Eddie Robinson... He was the Martin Luther King of football — was partially written to educate those who were not familiar with his story and didn't live through the turbulent '60s, a decade that helped define Robinson's legacy.

The author builds a good portion of the book around the Martin Luther King quote from former Jackson State coach W.C. Gorden.

"I went into this, with real great concern, to not in anyway diminish Martin Luther King or minimize what he accomplished or trivialize it in any way," said Dressman. "Everyone I interviewed, I invited them to shoot it down, to disagree with me. To my pleasant surprise, not only did they agree but a great many of them wished they had said what W.C. Gorden had said."

Dressman talked with Game On! about his book

Why is now the time for an Eddie Robinson biography?

If you look at what is happening in America, things have changed a lot. If you look at colleges, the end of segregation really changed the place and the role and the prominence of black college athletics. Black colleges still exist, but I like to point out to people that Mark Ingram who won the Heisman Trophy (last season) wouldn't have even been able to get into Alabama back in the early 60s. He probably would have played for Eddie Robinson. That has all changed now so there will never be another Eddie Robinson. That heyday is gone so I think it is important that it be preserved and it hadn't been. I think that is the big thing, we are preserving an era that has gone forever.

The Martin Luther King quote is provocative because Robinson reacted differently to the 1960s. Was that a concern?

I am sure there are people who would say that no matter what you can't equate a football coach to a civil rights leader. I tried really hard to get someone who was at the center of it and Congressman John Lewis was terrific in talking to me and answering my questions. He put Eddie's contribution in a great context. There were lots of people who had to do lots of different things and it wasn't all about marching in the street or challenging laws and customs. Lewis' point was that was one thing Eddie did really well to make sure people were ready when progress came.

But you would understand those who believed that Robinson didn't do enough, would you not?

I could certainly understand that. But my own view, after talking to so many people who did live it, and who did experience it , is that I have to defer to their own appreciation for how he handled things. And conclude if they didn't feel he was deficient that way then there were certainly a lot of people who lived it and don't agree with you. He asked so many mothers to entrust their sons to him that he didn't want to put them in harm's way when he thought there was a better way.

Was he more of a teacher or a coach?

Eddie Robinson loved football and loved coaching and loved competition and being successful on the field was extremely important to him. There is no denying that. But I think the paramount priority for him was developing young people and getting them prepared for life. There are many quotes in the book of him telling his players that there is life after football. The famous one of him telling Goldie Sellers that when the legs stopped moving you still have to have something that you can rely on. I think his message to everyone he dealt with was be ready.

His wife, Doris Robinson was really a co-coach wasn't she?

Sh was a rock in his life. She really wanted him to be successful and she worked very hard to make it possible to achieve at a high level. She took great pride in that, she was tremendously loyal.

How interesting is it that the more gains in Civil Rights led to less success for people like Eddie Robinson?

I think that was a struggle for all of the successful black coaches of that time. But I think they viewed that as the necessary cost of progress. I think those coaches look at breaking down those obstacles and those barriers as worth the cost of losing that corner on that talent pool. I think a great many of Eddie's players would say he helped them become what they became.

The end was not pretty for Robinson but it really wasn't unexpected was it?

There is something about these tremendously successful coaches, these larger than life coaches. They all have that inner belief in themselves and that passion that makes it extremely difficult for them to let go. They have seen themselves have such an impact that they continue to believe they will have that impact.

What do you want people to get out of this book?

I would hope they would leave with a better understanding of the era in which Eddie Robinson coached and achieved so much success, the difference he made in so many lives and what a achievement it was under the conditions that existed then. I was struck with the realization that generations of Americans, really have no concept of Little Rock or Montgomery or Birmingham or any of the major points in the Civil Rights movement. For all of them, Martin Luther King was never a living, breathing person and for that reason most of them can't appreciate someone like Eddie Robinson or the difference of athletics now and what it was in that period. So I would hope that anyone who picks up the book comes away with a greater realization between the difference of now and then.

"Denny Dressman makes a compelling case that Eddie Robinson's contribution to American history was not confined to sports. His biography of this sports icon is also a social history of race relations in the U.S. from Jim Crow to the 21st century. An eminently readable book."
Dave Krieger
Denver Post sports columnist

"Mr. Dressman does not make Coach Robinson out to be a god, he instead allows him to be what he was—a strong American man. He lets you know that Eddie Robinson was not only the face of Grambling State University, the face of the city of Grambling, the face of Louisiana, or the face of Black college football. He was a true man among men. This is an insightful book about a man and his times in the country he called the greatest in the world."
Maricia D.C. Johns, Columnist,
Fort Worth Black News


By Maricia D. C. Johns, Fort Worth Black News
April, 2010 (Reprinted with permission)

Coach Rob as he was called by his players and the students of his beloved Grambling State University may not have been the Martin Luther King of football, he was however someone who took tough circumstances and made major gains and strides in the lives of his players, children, students and country. Coach Eddie Robinson is thought by many including me to be the best college football coach to ever coach the game. Eddie Robinson "...he was the Martin Luther King of football" sheds a new light on the life and times of Coach Eddie Robinson, coach of the Grambling State University Tigers.

Coach Rob thought he lived in the greatest country even though most of his life was spent in segregated situations. He was a proud man who knew from his early years that he was put on this earth to shape the lives of young men.

As detailed in the book, Coach Rob was many things to many people. He was the beloved husband to Doris his wife who dutifully cared for him as long as she could toward the end of his career and life. It was evident to all who knew them—they were in love. He was Jack LaLane to his players. There were no weight machines, no state of the art training equipment for his players so Coach Rob used make shift equipment to train his players. Coach Rob was a hero to the African American community.

Eddie Robinson was a man who knew that in order to allow his players to make a mark in the civil rights struggle was not to have them participate in sit-ins, it was for them to win football games, to win as many as possible and win they did. Grambling State University traveled the United States and everywhere they went whether win or lose they left their mark. These young men were taught to be 'men' among men. Coach Robinson taught them to show the world that there was nothing they couldn't do even in the face of adversity.

Mr. Dressman's book is a wonderful tapestry of the highs and lows of Coach Robinson's life. Mr. Dressman vividly illustrates that Coach Robinson was before his time. Many thought that he would become the first African American head coach of a National Football League team. In this respect, he was more like the Satchel Page of pro football.

The number of people who were willing to give interviews about their encounters with Coach Rob is a testament to his character as a man. These interviews show the loving care that Coach Rob gave to his players and the students of Grambling State University.

At the end of his career, Coach Rob and the other coaches of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) saw their players being recruited by the larger, more financially affluent schools, and their influence becoming a footnote in the world of college athletics. As you read the pages entitle Eddie's Pros with the names of the players that went on to play professional football, you will find yourself saying "I didn't know he went to Grambling".

Mr. Dressman does not make Coach Robinson out to be a god, he instead allows him to be what he was—a strong American man. He lets you know that Eddie Robinson was not only the face of Grambling State University, the face of the city of Grambling, the face of Louisiana, or the face of Black college football. He was a true man among men. This is an insightful book about a man and his times in the country he called the greatest in the world.

"The successful career of Robinson followed the progress of the Civil Rights Movement every step of the way. A recently released biography sums it up best in the title. Eddie Robinson "... he was the Martin Luther King of football" by Denny Dressman chronicles the life of Robinson and connects it with the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps there is no better way to learn about the civil rights struggle than through the life of Robinson."
Kevin McGuire, College Football Examiner,

Eddie Robinson's legacy lives on

By Kevin McGuire, examiner.com
February 15, 2010 (Reprinted with permission)

To say that Eddie Robinson is a coaching icon is a bit of an understatement. Aside from coaching Grambling State from 1941 to 1997 and retiring with the most coaching victories in college football with 408, 13 SWAC championships and nine black college football national championships, what makes Robinson a legend is how he is remembered by more than 200 of his former players who went on to play in the NFL including Pro Football Hall of Fame members Buck Buchanan, Willie Brown and Charlie Joiner. Over the weekend Grambling State opened The Eddie G. Robinson Museum on what would have been the coaching legend's 91st birthday.

Robinson's impact, like many of the great football coaches in the game's history, is felt far beyond the confines of a football field on Saturday afternoons. For Robinson the game was about the players and not himself. The Jackson, Louisiana, native was a pioneer for African-Americans from his younger days up until April 3, 1997 when he passed away, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Aside from being the first college football coach to eclipse the 400-victory mark (St. John's John Gagliardi has since passed Robinson), Robinson has another lists of firsts and accomplishments to his name.

He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek fraternity for African Americans. The son of a sharecropper and a domestic worker, Robinson went on to graduate high school in 1937, and earned a bachelor's degree from Leland College and a Master's degree from Iowa in 1954. His coaching career at Grambling got underway in 1941.

The successful career of Robinson followed the progress of the Civil Rights movement every step of the way. A recently released biography sums it up best in the title. Eddie Robinson "...he was the Martin Luther King of football" by Denny Dressman chronicles the life of Robinson and connects it with the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps there is no better way to learn about the Civil Rights struggle than through the life of Robinson.

Growing up in the Jim Crow Era in the segregated deep south of the country, Robinson had to endure many battles with his family and at times even with his football team. When Robinson became head coach at Grambling, segregation was still the law in Louisiana but he did not let that deter him from spreading the belief that anyone and everyone could be successful in the United States. At a time when African Americans were uniting to rally for Civil Rights, Robinson would preach to his players that they can make their own decisions but in order for them to make the biggest difference in the movement they should focus on earning their education at Grambling and let the rest of the movement play out. It was Robinson's belief that, if he could lead his players to earn their education, they could make a greater difference in the world as educated leaders rather than possibly get in trouble in violent protests or rallies or find themselves being bullied by those who wished to hold back the Civil Rights movement by any means necessary.

And if you thought Robinson's impact was limited just to football players at Grambling, guess again.

During his career at Grambling Robinson also took jobs as a high school teacher at Grambling High School and he would coach the girls basketball team there during World War II. It is sometimes said that a good coach could coach any sport. The best example of that philosophy being true is Robinson, who guided that girls basketball team to within one point of the state championship. And it did not end there for Robinson. He also coached the boys basketball (winning 288 games) and baseball teams, directed the band, and was in charge of the cheerleading squad. His budget? $46.

The opening of The Eddie G. Robinson Museum and the biographical release by Dressman should serve as valuable reminders to the impact Robinson had on not just college football, but all of sports and the Civil Rights movement. Because of Robinson the world of professional football was opened up to African-Americans. Paul "Tank" Younger and James "Shack" Harris, each from Grambling, became pioneers for African-Americans in the world of professional football. Younger became the first professional football player in the NFL from what is now referred to as a historically black college or university. He did this just two years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in professional baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Younger was a fullback and linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams. Harris was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the same year as O.J. Simpson. Though he was not the first black quarterback to start a game in the NFL (Marlin Briscoe, Denver Broncos in 1968), he was the first to start a season at quarterback.

Over the next two college football seasons we can expect to hear more about Robinson's coaching career. Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is 14 wins away from tying Robinson's 408 career victories entering the 2010 season. If Paterno stays on the sideline for two more seasons he should pass Robinson. Watching Paterno close in on Robinson should bring more attention to one of the game's finest leaders.

To learn more about Eddie Robinson visit the official website for The Eddie G. Robinson Museum and check out Eddie Robinson "...he was the Martin Luther King of football" by Denny Dressman, published by ComServ Books LLC.

"A thoroughly well-researched work. Denny Dressman has captured the life and legacy of Eddie Robinson. By incorporating the struggle of African Americans during the Jim Crow era with Robinson's own journey, one can appreciate why Eddie Robinson became a national treasure that transcended football and served as inspiration to all Americans."
Kent Stephens
College Football Hall of Fame historian

"This is a remarkable book that captures the story of a great coach and the life of a great American, who led generations of young African Americans through the treacherous years of the civil rights movement in the Jim Crow South and taught them how to be productive citizens, and great people."
John Belton
Chairman, Eddie G. Robinson Museum Commission

"A fascinating look at how an icon of college football steered his players through a tumultuous time in American history and taught them that the way to overcome was through hard work and perseverance."
Rick Morrissey
Chicago Tribune sports columnist

"The book... provides an impressive collection of interviews and stories of the legendary coach's life, one that needs no comparison."
Harrison Whitehouse, critic
A.V. Club, Boulder-Denver

By Harrison Whitehouse
February 23, 2010 (Reprinted with permission)

In Eddie Robinson, local sports writer Denny Dressman celebrates the long career of the Grambling State coach and sets it parallel to the civil rights movement. “He was the Martin Luther King of football,” a rival coach once maintained – a sentiment Dressman struggles to push as the book’s overarching theme.

By all accounts, Robinson set the standard for athletic achievement at the collegiate level. In a career that began with FDR in office and ended with Bill Clinton, Robinson became the first college football coach to ever win 400 games, and he did so at a historically black school in Louisiana that struggled for years under Jim Crow. Dressman paints a stoic picture of Robinson’s early years at Grambling, where he made weightlifting equipment by filling coffee cans with concrete and hired the school’s night watchman as his first assistant coach.

But Dresssman muddles Robinson’s narrative by trying to link him to major events of the era like the Montgomery bus boycott and the huge cast of characters who desegregated the South. Robinson, though, ignored the movement publicly, insulating his players so that they would not get caught in its uproar. He believed that involvement in the sit-ins or demonstrations would hurt a player’s chances with a professional team. Dresssman, however, does little to reconcile this.

Robinson’s career extended well past the civil rights movement, and once Dresssman moves forward in time, he narrows his focus on the Grambling football program.  As the decades pass, Robinson’s impact becomes clear. At its apex, Grambling was producing more professional football players than any school in the country except Notre Dame. The most notable player of Robinson’s era was Doug Williams, who in 1988 became the first black quarterback to start in the Super Bowl (and who led a victory over John Elway and the Denver Broncos).

But even with so much success, the natural arch of an athletic span is inevitable, and it was no different for Robinson: His age became a point of contention for those who wanted to replace him. Here Dresssman artfully details the messy ending to Robinson’s career using interviews with alumni and the university president who oversaw his final years. The book, once it shifts back to Robinson, provides an impressive collection of interviews and stories from the legendary coach’s life, one that needs no comparison.

"If you followed college football or the history of the Civil Rights movement, you know how the book ends before you turn a page. But keep turning pages, and, in his words, 'you'll see how one man influenced a sport, helped generations of young, poor African-Americans become productive citizens, and contributed subtly but profoundly to racial progress in our country.'"
Gary Massaro
The Villager, Greenwood Village, CO

Local author writes moving bio of legendary coach, leader

By Gary Massaro, The Villager (Greenwood Village, CO)
February 4, 2010 (Reprinted with permission)

The idea for the book started with an obituary, a short report about a subject who deserved more.

That’s what Denny Dressman thought his last year at the Rocky Mountain News when he became aware that football coaching legend Eddie Robinson had died.

“We had a little story. Television had short reports,” Dressman said. “I was surprised it wasn’t a bigger deal.”

So Dressman made it a bigger deal, writing a book on Robinson, the football coaching legend at Grambling University.

Dressman began his search on the Internet.

“I wanted to know more about him,” Dressman said.

He wanted to read a biography. Amazingly, none had been written, even though Robinson had coached 57 years at the same school, had won more than 400 games, and sent more than 200 player into pro football.

So Dressman set out to write his own.

He spent 14 months researching and writing.

“It was a parallel process,” he said. “On a project this big, I couldn’t gather all the information and then start writing.”

Dressman traveled to the Deep South several times. He visited museums. He interviewed 40 former players and students, coaches, university colleagues and associates. He read more than a dozen books on the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King and related subjects.

One interview was W. C. Gorden, a Hall of Fame coach at Jackson State in Mississippi whose comment when Robinson died provided the subtitle for the book.

“He talked of Eddie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the same breath,” Dressman said.

And that’s what gave Dressman the main focus of the biography he wrote.

“Eddie Robinson was a truly remarkable role model and leader of what we’d consider under-privileged young people, actually when it was very hard to be positive and encourage good things as an African American in the South,” Dressman said. “He emphasized getting an education, being responsible, and being an American, and he really opened pro football to black players.”

Robinson started in the Jim Crow days – before the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that “separate but equal” facilities really weren’t equal.

“I went into the book hoping that I could resolve whether or not that view (likening Robinson to Dr. King) was valid,” Dressman said. “And I think it is. He believed in people, believed in the right way, believed in America. Eddie Robinson wasn’t a great black American. He was a great American.”

Dressman was a young guy during the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s. He wasn’t paying much attention, being a young guy. He was married. He was going to school. He was working.

Robinson’s contribution to the movement “came through loud and clear,” Dressman said.

He said he learned a lot about “a period of time that is gone forever and needed to be preserved.”

“It will never be that way again,” Dressman said. “I can’t believe that people could treat people in such a way – that Americans could be that cruel to other Americans.”

And, along the way, Dressman got an education.

“I learned how little that I really knew about what might be the most significant period of our nation’s history, that unfolded before our eyes,” Dressman said.

Dressman and his wife, Melanie, have lived in unincorporated Arapahoe County on the east edge of Greenwood Village for almost 20 years

He retired in 2007 from the Rocky, two years before it folded. He served as sports editor, assistant managing editor and vice president of human resources and labor relations during 25 years at the newspaper.

I worked with Dressman for 20 years. I have read two of his books.  This is his best.

If you followed college football or the history of the Civil Rights movement, you know how the book ends before you turn a page. But keep turning pages, and, in his words, “you’ll see how one man influenced a sport, helped generations of young, poor African-Americans become productive citizens, and contributed subtly but profoundly to racial progress in our country.”

"Dressman gives 'Rob' (a) fitting tribute... (He) has penned an excellent book..."
O.K. "Buddy" Davis, Sports Editor
Ruston (La.) Daily Leader

Dressman gives 'Rob' fitting tribute

By O.K. Davis, Ruston (La.) Daily Leader
December 27, 2009 (Reprinted with permission)

A new book on Eddie Robinson that begins reaching bookstores this month is the perfect way to “warm up” for a huge event scheduled early next year for the former Grambling State University football coaching legend.

Denny Dressman, a Denver-based author who spent 43 years in the newspaper business, has penned an excellent book titled Eddie Robinson “. . . he was the Martin Luther King of football.”

The 373-page book arrives just under three months before the long awaited Eddie Robinson Museum is officially dedicated on the university’s campus during the weekend of Feb. 12-13, 2010.

Dressman devotes the very last page of his book to letting readers know about the museum, one that will serve as a fitting and lasting tribute to one of our nation’s most prominent and respected sports figures.

So does this book, which touches upon a variety of topics concerning Robinson and his impact on not just college football, but society in general.

I particularly liked part three of the took titled “The Journey.”

It consists of 10 chapters detailing the trail that Robinson followed in becoming the leader of Grambling State’s internationally acclaimed program and the various young men that came under his direction.

From Willie Davis and Willie Brown, from Ernie Ladd to the late Junious “Buck” Buchanan.

Dressman devoted much of his research and time to interviewing many of these ex-Tigers, regardless of whether they went on to excel in the professional ranks. The gist of speaking with anyone about Robinson is to understand how much he meant to them in their personal lives, as well as instructing them in the nuances of the game.

“Virtually every one of Eddie’s former players spoke of him with appreciation and admiration in the years that followed their college careers,” begins Chapter 17 of the book.

“For the majority he was the most influential male figure in their lives, a combination surrogate father, role model and teacher who shaped them in ways they will never forget.”

Published by ComServ Books, the book is filled with original reporting, among them being:

  • Bob Hopkins, one of the first African Americans to play in the NBA following a record-breaking career at Grambling State, speaks about Robinson, the basketball coach. Yes, the basketball coach.
  • Former Tigers’ All-American and Heisman Trophy top-five finisher Doug Williams recalls the personal relationship he had with “Coach Rob” and the awkward position he found himself in when succeeding him as head coach.
  • Former U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Rod Paige, who was head coach at Jackson State and Texas Southern, recollects the emotional conflict on his staff as he readied to face Grambling in the first game involving black football players at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.
  • Former Grambling president Dr. Raymond Hicks gives a behind-the-scenes account of how he had to handle the final years of Robinson’s career.

As Dressman denotes numerous times throughout the book, “Rob” was admired and respected by opposing coaches as he was by his players.

“To me, he was the Martin Luther King of football,” said former Jackson State coach W.C. Gorden.

It was those words that served as the inspiration for Dressman’s book, one that certainly does justice to “Coach Rob.”

"Denny Dressman's new biography of the late Grambling coach Eddie Robinson seeks to weave into a flowing fabric the man's well-known impact on the game of football and its players with the lesser-known impact he had on the civil rights movement."
Tom Munds, Community Editor
Englewood (CO) Herald

By Tom Munds, Englewood (CO) Herald
February 8, 2010 (Reprinted with permission)

Denny Dressman’s new biography of the late Grambling coach Eddie Robinson seeks to weave into a flowing fabric the man’s well-known impact on the game of football and its players with the lesser-known impact he had on the civil rights movement.

“Eddie Robinson didn’t take part in the freedom marches or demonstrations but his influence on thousands of young African-American men as a coach and mentor had a huge impact on countering the Jim Crow atmosphere the coach and those around him grew up with and lived with in the Deep South,” Dressman said. “This book is about the man but also is seeking to preserve the history of the time and the civil rights movement during the volatile 1960s.”

The author will discuss these and other aspects of his book as he is the featured speaker during the Black History presentation from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Englewood Public Library. The event is free and will be held in the community room that is located on the second floor of the Englewood Civic Center, 1000 Englewood Parkway.

Dressman spent much of his 43-year career as a newspaperman as a sports writer and editor. The Arapahoe County resident spent the last 25 years of that career at the Rocky Mountain News.

Eddie Robinson died in 2007, about the time Dressman retired and, now that the writer had the time, he began the effort to write Robinson’s biography.

“As a sports writer and editor, I followed and was really impressed by all that Eddie Robinson accomplished coaching at Grambling. He set all kinds of records and it was players from Grambling who broke the color barrier in the National Football League,” he said. “I knew he was a great coach and individual so, when he died, I expected to see a flood of news stories about Eddie Robinson and all he accomplished on and off the football field. There were some stories but not what I expected. But there were some comments about his off-field influence on history and the civil rights movement that made me want to learn more about not just the coach but the man.”

He said what really motivated him was when reading a tribute to Robinson, he read the quote by W.C. Gorden, long-time Robinson rival as Jackson State coach, who called Robinson, “ . . . the Martin Luther King of football.”

The result was Dressman began a three-year effort of research and interviews that culminated in the recently released book.

“My initial work was online and I collected a lot of facts, figures and comments from former associates and players. Then I did about 40 interviews with friends, family, former players and people who knew him well,” the author said. “What I learned helped me really begin to get a feel for the impact of the man as I dug into his origins, the climate of the times when he became coach at Grambling and his influences on those around him during the civil rights movement.”

Dressman said he tried to put into words what he learned about Robinson and his constant effort to overcome racial prejudice and to show that the long-standing Jim Crow stereotype of blacks was just so much hogwash.

“His success was in mentoring his players and young men around him to succeed in life. He helped open some doors for black citizens and undermine segregation across the South by softening the hearts of many white citizens,” Dressman said. “As I started to do the research, I realized there are generations of adults who were born after the civil rights movement and have no idea what America was like before that happened. I tried to relate the challenges and impact of the civil rights movement as well as to preserve the accomplishments and legacy of the great Grambling coach, Eddie Robinson.”

"(Dressman) started looking for a biography of Coach Eddie Robinson that would document his civil rights work through football. The problem was, there was no such book. So, Dressman decided to write one..."
Nancy Burkhart
The Colorado Editor

Rockie staffer writes book on Football/Civil Rights Great

By Nancy Burkhart, The Colorado Editor
February, 2010  (Reprinted with permission, Colorado Press Association)

The late Eddie Robinson was a great football coach at historically black Grambling State University. He was known as the Martin Luther King of football. Not only was he the coach with the most wins in Division I-AA college football history during his years at Grambling, 1941 through 1997, but he led more than 200 of his players to pro football slots in both the National Football League and American Football League.

Retired Rocky Mountain News Associate Managing Editor for Administration Denny Dressman started his career at the News in 1982 as Executive Sports Editor. Thus, when he retired and read “The Race Beat” book by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, a review of newspaper coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, he started looking for a biography of Coach Eddie Robinson that would document his civil rights work through football. The problem was, there was no such book. So, Dressman decided to write one, and he published “Eddie Robinson “... he was the Martin Luther King of football.”

“It’s Eddie’s life story, and Eddie lived through an awful lot from the ‘40s, growing up in the Jim Crow era to coaching in the Deep South segregation,” Dressman said. “That’s why the subtitle is so important. (It is about) his influence on everyone he came in contact with for 50 years – players, students, people around the country. He had a dramatic effect and impact on all of those people through his coaching and his leadership of young men and women. There’s no separating the civil rights with his coaching.”

Being a white man who grew up in Cincinnati, Dressman had little first-hand knowledge of segregation.

“As I worked on the book, one of the biggest challenges I had was trying to understand what life was like, especially in the ‘40s and ‘50s, because I was so young and oblivious to it,” he said. “I worked hard to try to understand what black people faced during that time. I spent a lot of time in interviews asking them to help me understand what it was like... in turn, trying to understand Eddie’s approach to it because his was so restrained. He didn’t emphasize the demonstrations and the protests. He tried to discourage his players from being involved. He was trying to change things through education.”

"Appropriately, for Black History Month, a wonderful book has been released about the great Eddie Robinson. Denny Dressman... not only captures the legacy of Robinson, but also captures life in the Jim Crow South through the Civil Rights Movement..."
Gloria Johnston, Editor
SwingVote.com e-magazine

Letter from the editor

By Gloria Johnston, Editor
(Reprinted with permission from SwingVote.com e-magazine)

Appropriately, for Black History month, a wonderful book has been released about the great Eddie Robinson. Denny Dressman, a former president of the Denver Press Club and the Colorado Press Association, spent years conducting interviews and research to produce an interesting and thorough account of Eddie Robinson's life and career.

Robinson won 408 games as the football coach at Grambling. He helped open pro football to athletes from historically black colleges, and was one of the most influential black men in the South throughout the civil rights era.

Eddie Robinson's contributions were not limited to sports. Denny not only captures the legacy of Robinson, but also captures life in the Jim Crow South through the Civil Rights Movement. It is our pleasure to feature Denny Dressman.

Until next week,

The Denny Dressman Interview

By Scott Bershof
(Reprinted with permission from SwingVote.com e-magazine)

Swing Vote: On the cover of your book it says Coach Eddie Robinson was 'the Martin Luther King of football.' It's a fairly bold statement. Is what you are trying to infer, independent of athletics, in his social impact, did he have as much influence as someone like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali or Roberto Clemente?

Denny: The sub-title is a direct quote from W.C. Gorden, the head football coach at Jackson State for about twenty years while Eddie coached. When Eddie died, Gorden was asked for his reaction and he said, "To me, he was the Martin Luther King of football." That is the origin of it. I recognized it immediately as a quote that would really serve well as a part of the book title. Denny Dressman But I had the same questions and concerns that you just raised -- was that really an accurate reflection of this man's contributions? I spent a great deal of time interviewing a lot of people -- I interviewed about forty people and most of the people I talked to, I was trying to get their feeling and determine to my own satisfaction whether or not in fact that was accurate. The conclusion I reached is that it is absolutely accurate.

Swing Vote: The athletes that were just mentioned -- Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Roberto Clemente transcended sports and are considered cultural icons. Coach Robinson is probably not quite on that level to be considered a cultural icon. Why do you think that is?

Denny: A big part of it is that for so long, for so much of his career during the height of segregation particularly in the South, the white press ignored black college sports. They ignored black news. So a lot of what he accomplished and a lot of his contributions took place before the nation was paying attention.

Swing Vote: This is obviously a 'what if' situation, but do you think Coach Robinson would have been as successful as a coach at a major school -- such as Ohio State, Michigan or Notre Dame?

Denny: I think if you asked his players from any decade that he coached, they would say yes. But there is no denying that a major part of his success was the depth of talent he was able to attract because of segregation. He had virtually a corner on the market on black athletes from the 50s through the 70s. If you think about it, Mark Ingram who won the Heisman Trophy at Alabama this year, couldn't have gotten into Alabama before 1970. He probably would have played for Eddie if he had been a college student in the 60s.

Swing Vote: On an extension of that last question, the fact that Coach Robinson didn't coach at a major school -- from a cultural and social standpoint, did he have a greater impact by staying in the Deep South at an all-black school?

Denny: I think most definitely, and I think that's part of the origin of the quote from W.C. Gorden in the sub-title of the book. Eddie Robinson was first and foremost concerned with developing the young, mostly poor, mostly single-family black kids who came to Grambling in most cases from families that had never had anyone go to college. His whole approach was, 'Get an education and show what you can do by achieving not only on the field but in the classroom and then in life.'

Swing Vote: Today in the NFL there are a lot of successful black coaches. Obviously, the first one that comes to mind is Tony Dungy, who retired recently. Marvin Lewis was just named Coach of the Year, Jim Caldwell just went to a Super Bowl, Mike Tomlin won a Super Bowl last year and Lovie Smith went to a Super Bowl recently. Do you see their careers indirectly linked to the success of Coach Robinson?

Denny: I think the success of African-American coaches and African-American players in pro-football is directly tied to Eddie Robinson's contributions. When he sent Tank Younger to the Los Angeles Rams in 1949, the only black players to ever to play in pro-football where three or four that Paul Brown had lined up, and none of them had come from a historically black college. He opened the door in pro-football to all those black athletes who weren't playing in the north or mid-west or on the west coast. That was the bulk of black athletes at that time. He also eventually opened the door to black quarterbacks. His goal was that his star black quarterback not be turned into a wide receiver or defensive back when he got to the pros. Now you have had several including an MVP with Steve McNair. Everything he did paved the way for the current generation of coaches or players who are African-American.

Swing Vote: We just mentioned all the successful black head coaches in the NFL. For a long time we had the term 'black quarterback' applied because it was so rare to see a black player as a quarterback. Now we have someone like Donovan McNabb who is really just considered a 'quarterback' now. Do you see that changing as well with coaches? Are they still 'black coaches' or are they just becoming 'coaches'?

Denny: I think in the NFL that may be more likely the case. The numbers are still not very good in major college football. As long as they keep statistics and percentages -- how many black coaches are in college or for that matter, how many head coaches in the NFL -- as long as you still have to have a Rooney rule, I think they will still be recognized by their race. I wish it were different, but I think that is the society we live in still.

Swing Vote: What are the main stereotypes Coach Robinson broke down and maybe even shattered?

Denny: That is a difficult question to answer only because it can't be answered simply. You have to understand the society in which he began coaching and coached in for a number of decades. It was a segregated society, a society that discriminated on the basis of race to a great deal. Denny Dressman The stereotypes he attacked were the idea that black students and black athletes could not achieve -- that they could not graduate, that they could not be dependable citizens, that they could not perform under pressure. There were a lot of those things that existed in the 50s and 60s that were eventually brought down by the Civil Rights Movement and all the courageous people who led the marches, protests and demonstrations. Interestingly, Eddie's approach to all of that was to tell his players and students and others in the community that in his view, the most important thing was to get an education and be able to go into the world and do the job when you get the chance. You could probably summarize by saying the stereotype he attacked was the belief that black people at that time couldn't achieve in a way or at a level comparable to any white person.

Swing Vote: In a stereotypical way, we usually think of football coaches as irate -- always screaming, never satisfied with a player's performance. Usually who comes to mind are coaches like Woody Hayes, Bill Parcells or Bill Cowher. That really wasn't Coach Robinson's style, was it?

Denny: It wasn't. But if you talk to some of his former players they'll tell you that they certainly took plenty of heat from him and he was fully capable of coming down very hard on them. I was talking to Willie Davis just the other day on a program interview that I did and Willie talked about being really berated by Coach Robinson in practice. Willie said that you knew when you did wrong and when you weren't satisfying him. But he would always be the first one to come back to you in the locker room after practice or walking off the field and would say, 'You know I really just want you to do your best. I just want you to accomplish as much as you're capable of.' Unsaid, 'That's why I'm doing this. That's why I'm riding you so hard.' His was a very controlled thing. It wasn't a public thing like most of the guys you named who did it publicly and made it part of their personality. He was a behind the scenes, on the practice field, between you-and-me kind of thing. He would encourage them and treat them like human beings the rest of the time.

Swing Vote: He began coaching in 1941 during the Jim Crow South about twenty-five years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When he retired in 1997, how different was he as a person from the point where he was in 1941 to when he retired in 1997?

Denny: I think in fundamental ways, no different. Obviously he had aged, and he was not as successful a coach in his last five years. By then, he was in his late 70s and the years had taken their toll. But in terms of what he stood for -- his values, his principles, I don't think he changed that much. If you talked to his former players they will tell you without exception that he was the most patriotic American they've ever met. Not the most patriotic Black-American, the most patriotic American. He was always teaching and preaching the virtues of America. He would say, "We are living in the greatest country in the world." He would say, "If it can be done anywhere, it can be done in America. And if it can't be done in America, it can't be done anywhere else." He would always extol the virtues of America and that was from the 1940s to the time of his death. I think that's the thing people would remember the most. Denny Dressman That and the fact he never complained about any of the indignities or any of the problems he was faced with growing up black in a segregated society. He never had a chip on his shoulder about that. His attitude, his approach was, 'Things will get better but when they do, you got to help make them better and you've got to be ready when they get better because if you're not, then it won't be lasting.'

Swing Vote: One of his former players who would ultimately succeed him as head coach at Grambling, Doug Williams, in Super Bowl XXII had the most prolific second quarter in Super Bowl history. He was the first and is still the only African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Do you think that was Coach Robinson's proudest moment as a coach?

Denny: Certainly one of them. He had four Pro-Football Hall of Fame players and he delivered the introductory speeches for Willie Davis and Charlie Joiner, and he attended all of them. Those of course were proud, proud moments and so many other things. He talks about the first game they played in Tokyo; being called an American in a foreign country was an amazingly proud moment for him. There is a story in the book about Eddie meeting Doug in the runway at the end of the Super Bowl. Doug told me this story where Coach met him, hugged him, told him how proud he was, not just of the accomplishment and the performance, but the fact Doug had gotten up off the deck. He had suffered a knee injury late in the first quarter and they weren't sure if he would play in the game again. He hobbled out there and had, like you said, the most prolific second quarter in Super Bowl history. When Eddie hugged him, he said, "It was just like me watching Joe Louis beat Max Schmeling." Then Doug said he couldn't see that; he was a kid then. He listened to it on the radio. But he was picturing it. That statement alone gives you a pretty good idea that was a very proud moment.

Swing Vote: What do you think Coach Robinson would personally say he is most proud of from his 50-year coaching career?

Denny: There is no doubt in my mind that the thing he is most proud of is every player who played for him, who graduated, who went on to success in life, whether that be in business or as a family man. There is a quote at the end of the book that sums it up as well as anything I could say. This is a comment from one of his former players who became a state legislator in Louisiana: "'Coach' described him but it did not define him. In the aftermath of his death a lot of attention will be devoted to all the players he sent to the NFL. That's not his legacy. It's the thousands of young men who went to Grambling with no hope of having a life in the NFL. His legacy is the thousands of men who are good fathers, good husbands, good businessmen, good employees and good leaders." And I think that mattered more than anything else.

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Zappolo's People, Fox 31 Denver, January 24, 2010

Press Pass with Aubrey Bruce, Blogtalkradio.com, February 1, 2010

David Sirota Show, AM 760, February 8, 2010

Book Beat at The Denver Press Club, Denver 8 TV, City and County of Denver, recorded February 11, 2010

Ron Barr Show, Sports Byline USA - America's Sports Talk Network, May 24, 2010

SportsTalk with Bobby Hebert and Deke Bellavia on WWL Am&FM, New Orleans, July 15, 2010

Inside The Game with Pat Williams on WORL AM 660, Orlando, FL, July 25, 2010

Interview with Omarr Bashir on Heritage Sports Radio Network, September 25, 2010

The Early Morning Show with Jim Scott, 700WLW, Cincinnati, October 20, 2011

Andy Furman Sports, REALTALK1160, Cincinnati, November 4, 2011

The Artificial Turf Show with Bill Rogan and Justin Adams, 710KNUS NEWS/TALK, Denver, November 20, 2011

Opening of Eddie G. Robinson Museum at Grambling writes happy ending to decade-plus journey

First-class exhibit honors legendary coach

By Denny Dressman

At the dedication ceremony for the Eddie G. Robinson Museum on a bone-chilling Saturday in early February of 2010, Wilbert Ellis, one of Coach Robinson's closest friends, stepped to the podium to deliver closing remarks before the official ribbon-cutting.

Coach Ellis had worked with Eddie for more than 40 years and was instrumental in making the Museum a reality – THIRTEEN YEARS after it was first proposed.

A reserved man not known for theatrics or showmanship, Ellis unfolded a piece of paper – his "dedication speech" – and prepared to address the audience. But before he began to speak, he stopped, fumbled with a pocket of his overcoat, then pulled out and flipped open his cell phone.

Grambling Banners adorn the building that houses the Eddie G. Robinson Museum on the Grambling State University campus.

Read the Discovery on the Heroes and Heritage Trail blog

"Wait! I have a call," he told the crowd.

"Please! Be quiet so I can hear."

Scattered voices fell silent, and everyone listened to his side of the ensuing conversation.

"Yes. This is Ellis...


Ellis covered his phone and told everyone:

"It's Coach Robinson."

Then he continued.

"Well, Coach, we're dedicating that Museum in your honor – the one we started talking about in 1997 but couldn't get off the ground for 10 years...

"What? Yes, Coach. You're right...

"In America, the greatest country in the world... ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE."

The crowd broke into hearty laughter as Ellis delivered his punch line. They knew what a struggle it had been. And they knew that Coach Rob's belief in America was the hallmark of his illustrious coaching career, as well as the foundation of his life as a role model for generations of African Americans during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement.

What many didn't know, however, were the details of the long road that led to this grand moment.

Grambling Grambling Wilbert Ellis (top) and John Belton both were instrumental in making the Eddie G. Robinson Museum a reality after years of inaction on the proposal.

Grambling The world-famous Grambling Marching Band played down Jones Street to begin the dedication ceremony for the Eddie G. Robinson Museum.

Eddie Robinson had reluctantly discontinued coaching his beloved Tigers less than two seasons before State Rep. Pinky Wilkerson and Senate President Randy Ewing authored a bill in the Louisiana Legislature to establish a museum in his honor.

The year was 1999.

"The museum was going to be a Welcoming Center for Grambling," recalled John Belton, state-appointed chairman of the Eddie G. Robinson Museum Commission, the group charged with making sure Museum was completed. "But there were a lot of problems, a lot of unanswered questions. The push to raise money never got going."

Borrowing the favorite line of the real estate profession, the three biggest problems for the museum were: location, location and location.

"The biggest question," Belton explained, "was, 'Where will it be?' The legislation required that the museum be part of Grambling State University. So we had to find land that could be part of the university.

"Land in Grambling is hard to come by," he continued. "There just isn't much. Family members want to keep it in their family, and others who live in other cities want big-city prices to sell it."

While the museum idea languished from 1999 to 2005, Belton served a six-year term on the Board of Trustees of Gambling's arch-rival, Southern University. He even served as chairman the last two.

That is not to suggest, however, that Belton was a stranger or complete outsider as far as Eddie Robinson and Grambling are concerned – even if he did attend McNeese State, ways down in Lake Charles, not too far from the Texas border.

"My mother grew up near Grambling," Belton said. "All I heard was Grambling and Coach Robinson. I wanted to go to Grambling."

Belton, a cornerback, was voted the high school defensive player of the year in Louisiana his senior season. "But I went to a white high school," he said, "and Grambling didn't recruit the white schools. Rob never came to my school."

Belton became a lawyer, and moved to Ruston, a few miles from Grambling. Two years later he became assistant district attorney for Lincoln Parish. Soon after, he met the famous coach.

"One day he called me and said, 'One of my boys is in trouble. Can I come over and meet you.' He took care of his football players. He always told patents, 'I'm their father when they're with me. I won't turn my back on them.' And he never did."

After rotating off the Southern Board in 2005, Belton wrote a letter to Secretary of State Al Ater urging action on the museum. "We need to get this going again," Belton said. "Coach Rob's health is deteriorating."

Ater pledged his support, and then Belton was appointed chairman of the group charged with making it happen. Completing the museum became a personal mission for Belton.

"I promised him while he was still living," he said. "I told him, 'Coach, we'll make this thing happen. It's going to happen.' If I give my word to somebody, I'm going to live by it."

Meetings began in 2005 – the year Hurricane Katrina changed Louisiana forever.

The first topic was a name change for the non-profit organization established to raise funds for the museum. The Grambling Welcoming Center became Friends of the Eddie G. Robinson Museum, and Wilbert Ellis became its chairman. A banquet was held to kick off the fund-raising drive.

Still, it was slow going until the museum's namesake succumbed to Alzheimer's in April, 2007. By then, Jay Dardenne had been elected Secretary of State. He spoke at the legendary coach's funeral, and promised to make the museum a priority.

Grambling Grambling Grambling The timeline of Eddie Robinson's life begins with sharecropper parents in Jackson, Louisiana, and traces his life through his move to Baton Rouge as a little boy and on to Grambling and eventual national prominence.

"It's almost as if when Coach Rob passed away, he had a talk with God," Belton said. "Money came in from all over the country. Small amounts, but it added up. Everything started clicking. The blessings started raining down upon us."

One of those blessings, indirectly, was Katrina, or rather the aftermath. Legislators had approved the idea of establishing a museum to honor the legacy of Coach Eddie Robinson, but hadn't appropriated money for it.

After Katrina, disaster funding flooded into the state. It would not be accurate to say that hurricane relief paid for the museum, but it did make it possible to earmark almost $3.5 million to preserve Coach Robinson's legacy.

The thorny issue of a site, however, remained unresolved until one day when Coach Rob intervened from above. At least, that's how Belton sees it.

"Coach Ellis and I had asked for a meeting with university president (Horace) Judson. I got out of my car in front of the Administration Building, and looked to my right. There was the old Women's Gymnasium. Immediately, it was like it dropped into my spirit: 'This is where the museum should be.'

"We went into the meeting," Belton continued, "and I said, 'Mr. President, what is that building used for?' He said there were some offices in there for some of the coaches, and the cheerleaders and dancers used it for practice.

"When we left the meeting, I said to Coach Ellis, 'Coach, let's walk over there.'

"And then I said, 'This is where the museum is going to be.' I told him, 'They just completed the new Assembly Center. All the coaches offices will be over there. And the cancers and cheerleaders can practice there.'

"Coach Ellis said, 'Did you know Coach Rob coached basketball in this gym?' I said, 'No!' I had no idea.

"And then Coach Ellis pointed to the corner of the building. 'That's where President Jones and Coach Rob met when he hired him.' I said, 'Coach! Are you serious?' I had chills down my spine."

That quickly, the site problem was solved.

"It had historic value," Belton said. "And it's on campus.

"The president said, 'This is where it should be.'"

Grambling A bigger-than-life likeness of "Coach Rob" greets visitors upon their arrival inside the Eddie G. Robinson Museum.

After relishing the success of the unexpected beginning to his museum dedication remarks, Wilbert Ellis shifted from lighthearted to heartfelt – expressing the significance of the monument that was about to open to the public for the first time.

Then it was time to see all that awaited inside the beautifully renovated former gym at 126 Jones Street, so named in honor of Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, the visionary leader who brought Eddie Robinson to Grambling in 1941 when it was called Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute.

The exhibition captures the full breadth of Robinson's life, contributions and accomplishments. The presentation is first-class in every way.

A statue of Coach Rob holding a football greets visitors as they enter the main hall. When fully funded, this will be a bronze.

Behind it is a curving, illustrated timeline of Eddie's life and career, beginning with a section titled "Eddie's start in life." Every important period of his life is depicted, with fact panels, photos and illustrations.

The Locker Room Theater affords the opportunity to view game film and videos about the most famous African American football coach of all-time.

In another room plaques are displayed recognizing every one of Coach Rob's players who earned a chance to play pro football – more than 200 of them.

The Hall of Honors is devoted to the many awards and special recognition Eddie Robinson received during his illustrious 57 years at Grambling.

His home office has been recreated, and there's even an interactive area complete with an old-time blocking sled and a series of tires that "players" can high step their way through. The floor is covered with artificial turf.

The Museum also contains a banquet hall named in honor of Doris Robinson, and space for traveling exhibits.

"I prayed in a lot of situations to God," said Belton, "make this better than expected."

One of Eddie Robinson's favorite quotes seems appropriate to describe the outcome.

"If you work hard enough, dreams can come true."

Slide 1
Former coach and athletic director Jack Lengyel, a member of the board of directors of the College Football Hall of Fame, visits author Denny Dressman’s booth at the American Football Coaches Association annual convention.
Slide 1
Visitors to the Denver Press Club’s first Pen & Sword Literary Open House learn about the writing of the Eddie Robinson biography.
Slide 1
Displays announce presentations on Coach Rob’s life and career at Arapahoe County libraries.
Slide 1
Displays announce presentations on Coach Rob’s life and career at Arapahoe County libraries.
Slide 1
The biography of Grambling’s Eddie Robinson was selected for inclusion in the exclusive Books By The Banks book festival in Cincinnati, Ohio. Denny Dressman was one of 98 local and nationally-known authors invited to participate.