Thursday, August 31, 2006

Grambling greats: Willis Reed

The Hornets bring Willis Reed home after decades on the East Coast
July 25, 2004

By Nick Deriso
Willis Reed will forever take that long limping walk onto the court in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.

This iconic imagery has become bigger than the moment, bigger even than Reed - the 6-foot-10 former Grambling State All-American who took a job as vice president of basketball operations with the New Orleans Hornets last month.

"I am 62 and we are still talking about it," Reed said. "I told everybody then that I didn’t want to be sitting somewhere 30 years later, thinking I should have tried."

He isn’t.

In fact, three decades later, Reed was sitting on his very own man-made pond - one of three on a 60-acre farm hideaway north of Grambling on Louisiana 544.

He was thinking about smaller things.

"For me, I love the country," Reed said. "I’m just a country boy at heart. That will never change."

Not even after a Hall of Fame career that included two NBA titles. Not even after a professional life spent in the brash bustle of New York.

He caught eight bass last weekend - then, one by one, threw each of them back. Reed, in the twilight of a magical career around basketball, is taking it easy.

"I didn’t feel like cleaning them up," Reed said, chuckling. "At least I know there are eight bass in there."

Reed bought this land in 1989, but is only just now getting to fully explore it.

Reed couldn’t be farther away from the place where he made his name professionally - as a player, coach and an executive with the Knicks.Yet, he’s right at home.

"If you would have asked me the beginning of June, I would have never thought all of this could happen," Reed said. "I still had a multiple-year contract. I figured I would probably finish up in New York and retire back in Louisiana. For me to be sitting here? I never thought about it."

Selected Finals MVP during both years that the Knicks won a title, Reed was an adviser for the team last season. That followed 14 years in the New Jersey front office, where he served as senior vice president when new Hornets coach Byron Scott led the Nets.

"There are very few people with Hall of Fame credentials and achievements as both a player and as an executive," said New Orleans owner George Shinn, "so we took advantage of a rare opportunity."

But Reed never really left northeastern Louisiana. Not in his heart.

"From 1969 to ‘73, we won two championships with the Knicks," said Reed. "But if I had to live four years of my life all over again, which would it be? It would be 1960 to ‘64. The greatest four years I ever spent were those at Grambling."

Reed’s experience is becoming ever more rare in an NBA made over with stars who never finished college - if they went at all.

"Kids today miss that," said Reed, who led GSU to three Southwestern Athletic Conference titles. "They come right into the pros. College was the right place at the right time."

The Hornets selected their own high-school phenom this year, choosing J.R. Smith out of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J., with the 18th pick in the NBA Draft. Smith was one of a record eight prep seniors chosen in the first round.

"What it has forced NBA teams to do is rethink how they do things," Reed said. "Coaching staffs have become much larger, because you have to have developmental programs for younger players. After the draft, we met with the ownership and we are talking about how and what we need to do to get ready for a player as young as J.R."

Born in Hico - a town so small, Reed once said, that "they don’t even have a population" - he grew up in Bernice in Union Parish.

After attending Westside High School in the late 1950s, Reed walked off his front porch to stardom just 26 miles south in Grambling.

He led the Tigers to the NAIA title as a freshman in 1961 - then to the NAIA Final Four in 1963 and 1964. Reed would score 2,280 career points, averaging 26.6 points and 21.3 rebounds during his senior year.

"I was blessed, growing up in Bernice and playing in Grambling and having the chance to play on a good team, to travel," Reed said. "I did everything I could have done at a major school at Grambling. That basketball program hasn’t been as good, because Division I is so much more difficult than the old NAIA."

Reed was one of 26 All-Americans who played for the late coach Fred Hobdy, a football player on Eddie Robinson’s legendary undefeated 1942 club. Hobdy, who later served as GSU’s athletics director, would amass a hoops record of 572-288.

"Fred had that program at its greatest during that time," said Collie J. Nicholson, the school’s sports information director from 1948-78. "The athletic programs were tops across the board back then. But as we tried to move into the big time for football, we left the NAIA."

Meanwhile, the New York Knicks were putting on a stunning display of basketball mediocrity, posting just one winning season in the 12 years between 1955-56 and 1966-67. All of that changed as Reed’s 10-year career got going.

He started fast. Selected by the Knicks in the second round of the 1964 draft, Reed was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

Reed was already having his best season as a pro - he’d been named the NBA’s regular-season most valuable player and the All-Star Game MVP - when a now-familiar pregame drama unfolded on May 8, 1970.

The championship series against Los Angeles - a team led by fellow Hall of Famers Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain - was tied at three games apiece.Reed had scored 37, 29, 38 then 23 points in the first four contests, but wasn’t expected to start after suffering a deep thigh injury in Game 5.

Nevertheless, Reed struggled out onto the floor, sparking thunderous applause at Madison Square Garden. He would somehow out-jump Chamberlain for the opening tip - a feat many men with two good legs never achieved - then hit from the top of the key and again with a 20-foot jumper.

Reed didn’t score again. He didn’t have to, as New York eventually won the contest, 113-99.

"The reason it’s a moment that’s talked about?" Reed asked. "Thirty-four years later …"
He ruminated some more.

Seems Reed, so comfortable outside of fame’s circle of light, is still humbled by the attention.
"It inspired the team to a championship," he said, finally. "If we would have lost, nobody would be talking about it."

Reed, an All-Star in his first seven years as a pro, continued to be slowed by injuries. Tendinitis in his knees marred the 1971 and 1972 seasons, but he rallied the Knicks to a second title in 1973.

"None of us had played on a championship team," Reed said, still lost in reverie.

His quiet manner makes it easy to forget that he ever did.

Reed attended services with his mother, Inell, last weekend in the church of his youth - the New Hopewell Baptist Church on Plum Street, just off U.S. 167 in Bernice.

Reed didn’t wear a Knicks championship ring. He never does.

"You remember those gyms, the process. That makes the ring unneeded," Reed said.

Still, a steady stream of inspired folks find Reed, even back home. Sometimes, they’ll stop in the middle of Louisiana 544, just to take pictures of his place.

He will forever talk about those first two baskets in the 1970 Finals, will forever be associated with hope and that hobble.

But, even with time, words sometimes fail.

"A championship," Reed said, still talking about his bare ring finger, "is something you live in your soul."

Reed file
· Age: 62 (born June 25, 1942)
· College: Grambling State
· Drafted: 1964, by New York Knicks (10th overall)
· Honors: Elected to Hall of Fame (1982); NBA champion (1970, ‘73); NBA MVP (1970); All-NBA First Team (1970); All-NBA Second Team (1967, ‘68, ‘69, ‘71); Rookie of the Year (1965); One of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Eddie Robinson Museum project

This dream also lives on
Attempts to build a Robinson museum have made for saga
January 18, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Everyone agrees that a museum dedicated to Eddie Robinson would be a good thing. What some haven't been able to agree upon is where it should be. Location was once again the center of conversation when a group of interested locals met last week at Grambling State in an attempt to revisit the now-dormant project.

"We had more or less settled on having it on campus," Doug Porter of Grambling, an original ex-officio Robinson museum board member, recalled during Friday's meeting. "The original plan had it near the stadium."

But, when potential sponsorship money popped up in Shreveport, the state of Louisiana's support for the museum went soft. Proposed funding out of Baton Rouge was cut last May, and the museum commission stopped convening.

That didn't sit well with some Grambling supporters, who call the unrealized museum one of the parish's most important economic opportunities.

That led to Friday's meeting in the conference room of GSU President Horace Judson. Among those in attendance were two representatives from Secretary of State W. Fox McKeithen's office - museum program director Stacy Sharpe and archivist Louis Morris - who said they were ready to jumpstart a new initiative.

Letters are to be sent out this week from Sharpe's office, polling past members about their interest in rejoining the effort. Then, she said, a new commission would be put together as soon as possible.

That would be a dramatic resurrection for a project that board members like Porter feared had been left for dead.

The museum was originally mentioned during the Louisiana Legislature's 1999 session, when then-Sen. Randy Ewing introduced Senate Bill No. 919.

The bill, co-sponsored by the late Rep. Pinky Wilkerson of Grambling and several others, created a commission that would develop a Robinson museum. The project was to be a part of the Department of State Museums Program, administered by the secretary of state.

Robinson - who has since limited his public appearances because of health issues - attended the board's first meeting, held Sept. 7, 2001, in Ruston. McKeithen spoke briefly to the assembled supporters, and addressed praise for the former coach's commitment to America's youth directly to Robinson.

Former Gov. Mike Foster had appointed four members to the board: John Belton, James Davison, Lottie Green - who was the group's leader - and Johnny Maxwell.

Others in attendance for that first meeting were Deputy Secretary of State Al Ater; Robert Wiley, then-president of Grambling Chamber of Commerce; Florent Hardy, Jr., Louisiana State Archivist; former GSU trainer Eugene "Doc" Harvey; James Bradford, president of the GSU Alumni Association; and Porter, president of the GSU Athletic Foundation.

"This first meeting of the Board of Governors earmarks the beginning of a long and exciting journey towards fruition of a dream long held by many people in our state and across the nation," McKeithen said that day in 2001.

The project sought to pull into tight focus both Robinson's achievements on the gridiron and in America. Head coach at Grambling from 1941-97, Robinson retired as the winningest coach in college history with 408 wins - leading the Tigers to 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles.

But Green would fall ill. Then a series of ex-officio commission members also left the school - including acting president Neari Warner, athletics director Albert Dennis III and football coach Doug Williams.

The project was already grinding to a halt by then.

While the secretary of state's office moved forward with a Grambling location, another proposal was broached that would locate the museum in Caddo Parish.

In February 2002, Shreveport officials even announced that outside sponsorship meant the museum could one day open on "one of two sites along the city's riverfront," according to news reports.

Supporters saw sponsorship dollars from Harrah's Casino as a foundation that would help ensure the museum's eventual reality.

The Caddo Parish location was linked to support from Harrah's Casino, where Robinson's 83rd birthday party was held in 2002. A Shreveport-based architectural firm was reportedly contacted to design the new building.

One of the possible locations, owned by the city of Shreveport, was between sites for an amphitheater and convention center that were proposed in 2002 on Cross Bayou. The other location, according to news reports, was a privately-owned parcel across Cross Bayou and north of the former Harrah's Casino on the banks of Red River.

Robinson has always been well loved in nearby Shreveport, where GSU plays regularly. He's a member of both the Greater Shreveport Chamber's Walk of Stars as well as the Northwest Louisiana Hall of Fame, which is on display at the Louisiana State Exhibit Building.

Even so, Robinson reportedly spoke before the museum commission and asked that the facility remain in Grambling.

"Everything that I accomplished and most of the service I rendered to the state and nation originated right here on this campus," Robinson is quoted as saying in separate releases from McKeithen's office and Grambling State.

That commission meeting, according to school documents, took place on April 12, 2002.

McKeithen's office quickly moved to rebuff the Shreveport option, issuing a contradictory news release on May 2, 2002. The museum would, the release said, be located in the town of Grambling - "in accordance with Coach Robinson's wishes."

McKeithen, in that same 2002 release, said: "It makes sense that a tribute to this legendary coach should be located in the area which was most directly affected by his excellent work."

Harrah's has since divested the downtown casino, which is now called Sam's Town, to avoid problems with regulators when it sought to buy Caesar's gaming operations.

Still, the confusion had a chilling effect on the proposed state funding.

Louisiana's financial commitment was wavering anyway. The state intended to allocate $600,000 to the project in the 2000-01 fiscal year, according to legislative documents, with another $3.9 million promised over the next two to five years.

But, even as the Louisiana State Archives collected truckloads of memorabilia from Robinson's career, funding didn't follow.

McKeithen's staff was instructed to begin cataloging and taking inventory of these items, which would then return to the museum once the facility was ready to open. The collection - which includes awards won by Robinson, as well as playbooks, equipment and a large stockpile of videotape from Grambling's football history - remains in storage, state archivist Louis Morris said during the Friday meeting at GSU.

Yet, like so many hoped-for projects in Louisiana, budget constraints had slowed the project - and probably led to the Shreveport proposal.

"The (new basketball and physical education) building was on the budget for 17 or 18 years, I understand," Judson said on Friday. "So sometimes, I am not so optimistic about state funding. I suggest we develop a Plan B that involves fund raising."

Perhaps the museum's closest brush with funding came as Foster prepared to leave office, when he approved a wide variety of favored projects. His final state budget for fiscal year 2004 included $5.5 million dollars earmarked for the Grambling facility.

But the Robinson museum was part of nearly $700 million in projects slashed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco last May in an effort to balance the teetering state budget.

Even so, the Robinson museum was not technically rejected. Two legislators listed all of those deleted projects, for the record, in House Concurrent Resolution 194 during the last session.

The museum was also mentioned on Aug. 25, 2004, by the Board of Regents facilities and property committee. But that was only to recommend that the project be made part of the next fiscal year's capital outlay budget requests.

In the end, however, there was no money. There was no one meeting to talk about the project. There wasn't even a consensus on where the museum should be.

Until last week, when Belton made an impassioned plea to get the museum back on track.

Wilkerson's son John Barabin Jr. attended Friday's informal talk - and opened another conversation about location.

Barabin had flown in from Philadelphia to encourage the group of interested locals to put the museum in Grambling's downtown area, and offered to contact legislators and help with land acquisition. He was greeted with excited approval by everyone from Judson to Ora Sampson, the current head of Grambling's chamber.

Judson spoke at length about how the museum could, if located off campus, helped spark tourism that would ultimately help both the city and the university. Year-round programming - including, perhaps, a Grambling Hall of Fame - ought to provide a more consistent level of interest, he said.

"You could put this in the context of African-American history, and how that played out in athletics," said Judson, who took office last July.

The group on Friday agreed that it would like to supplement whatever funding the state might provide, specifically through the formation of Friends of the Eddie Robinson Museum group - answering Judson's call for a "Plan B."

Belton, the only original governor-appointed board member to attend last week's organizational meeting, said he hoped to gather again in early February. His said the goal was to present a new outline for the museum to the Louisiana Legislature, scheduled to reconvene this spring in Baton Rouge.

This renewed enthusiasm - and a tight focus on establishing the museum in Grambling - could lead to seed money, said Morris, one of those two representatives from McKeithen's office.

Morris mentioned possible funds "that could produce a study on feasibility and land funding. Then, down the road, there might be other money for a building and exhibits."

Porter - an assistant on Robinson's staff in the late 1960s and early 1970s - was jubilant afterward.

"It might really happen," he said, as a big smile curled up his face. "It just might happen, after all."

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Exhibit to offer taste of museum to come
June 10, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - It may only be a short stroll through his towering legacy, but organizers hope a peek at some Eddie Robinson memorabilia will jumpstart the long-delayed project to honor him with a museum.

Members of the Eddie Robinson Museum Commission, as first reported at, on Thursday put the finishing touches to plans for a temporary exhibit that would open as part of the city of Grambling's Juneteenth celebration next week.

That represents a small but important breakthrough for an idea that's stalled since first being approved by the Louisiana Legislature back in 1999. While the larger project has been delayed by budget cuts and indecision on where to put the proposed museum, the temporary exhibit idea has come together quickly.

"It's not everything we want it to be," said governor-appointed board member John Belton, a Ruston attorney. "But at least we are moving forward."

Robinson retired after the 1997 season, having spent almost 60 seasons as head coach at Grambling State University. He held the record for most wins in all of college football, with 408, from 1984 through 2003. It still stands as the record in Division I.

The temporary exhibit honoring him, featuring selected pieces of memorabilia from GSU's in-house collection, will open at 9 a.m. June 17 in the Stadium Support Facility next to Robinson Stadium.

Several local and university officials are expected to attend, as well as members of the Robinson family. Former Robinson assistant Douglas Porter, who is still a close family friend, also will speak.

"It's very satisfying to see that at last we've got some positive movement," said Porter, an ex-officio member of the board who, like Belton, was at the original commission meeting in 2001. "I hope and pray that we can get this done while Coach is still alive."

GSU athletics director Willie Jeffries on Thursday suggested the addition of a multimedia presentation, designed to highlight Robinson's accomplishments not just as a coach, but also as a great American.

"When you talk about Eddie Robinson and what he stands for, it's fitting," said GSU coach Melvin Spears, who was a driving force behind the idea to establish a temporary exhibit in the already-existing trophy cases that line the walls of the support facility where his office is located.

"I'm elated we are so close to getting it done," Spears said. "It's a way to honor one of this country's most important individuals - and to talk about the way he influenced so many people."

Belton also thanked the group on Thursday for its hard work on the project, which Belton said directly led to his receiving the Tourism Service Award last month from the Ruston-Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Ruston Main Street Commission.

To go
A temporary exhibit will debut next week featuring memorabilia to be included in a proposed museum to honor former Grambling State University coach Eddie Robinson. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 17-18, then noon to 5 p.m. June 19, at the Stadium Support Facility next to Robinson Stadium in Grambling. For details, call 274-2542.

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Coach's legacy plays out at exhibit
Grambling `has a treasure within its midst' - Eddie Robinson
June 18, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Emotion shot through the Friday morning opening of an exhibit of memorabilia from Eddie Robinson's storied career at Grambling State University.

Doris Robinson entered to a standing ovation, then brought the house down with her touching memories of a life spent around husband Eddie Robinson - the football-coaching legend who she knows as a childhood sweetheart.

"It's been a great adventure," said Doris Robinson, who attended with son Eddie Robinson Jr. "I don't know what it would have been like if he didn't get this job. My years here have been great, and that's to say nothing of Eddie's years."

The exhibit, presented in conjunction with the city of Grambling's on-going Juneteenth celebrations, represents a long stride forward in a sometimes-bumpy six-year journey to honor Robinson with a museum.

The Louisiana Legislature first approved the project in 1999. Former Gov. Mike Foster named a four-member commission, with ex-officio membership from throughout the GSU administration, which first met in 2001.

But a series of budget cuts and disagreements over where the museum would be located stalled the project - until Ruston attorney John Belton and others reconvened in January, after nearly a year of inactivity. They vowed to jumpstart the museum by opening a display that was smaller in scope.

The artifacts are presented exclusively from the collection of Grambling State University. Robinson, who is suffering from Alzheimer's-like symptoms, was unable to attend. But a succession of friends and admirers reminisced about his legacy.

"I think he would have been very appreciative," said former GSU assistant coach Douglas Porter, a long-time family friend. "He would have been humbled - because that's the nature of the man. He would be moved, emotionally, to know that Grambling has finally awakened to the fact that it has a treasure within its midst."

Both Doris Robinson and Porter were nearly moved to tears as they spoke. Several local dignitaries mixed with Grambling alumni - including the mayors of Grambling, Ruston and Arcadia, who each paid tribute to Robinson. Grambling Mayor Martha Andrus read a proclamation dedicated to "A Tiger in Winter."

Athletics director Willie Jeffries closed out the ceremony with a series of humorous memories about Robinson, who he faced a number of times during his own 44-year career in coaching - mainly at South Carolina State.

"To have known him, to have had a chance to play against him, it's just amazing," said Jeffries, who joined the GSU administration late last year.

"Everybody wanted to beat him; that would've been a star in your crown," said Jeffries, with a hearty chuckle. "Of course, you're looking at one of Coach Rob's victims."

About Robinson
Eddie Robinson was hired as a coach and teacher in 1941 by what was then the Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute, which would later become Grambling. By 1995, he had become the first coach to win 400 games. Robinson eventually amassed 408 victories before retiring in 1997, a mark that stood as the best in college football until the 2003 season. A member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, he led Grambling to 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles.

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Ater backs Robinson museum
Secretary of state lauds legend at project's inaugural banquet
November 12, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater gave a stirring speech in support of a proposed Eddie Robinson Museum during the project's inaugural banquet on the campus of Grambling State University.

"We need to make sure that not just this generation, but future generations know that there was a man at this small school who did whatever it took to build this legacy," Ater said before about 250 museum supporters. "With commitment, anything is possible. He epitomizes that."

The Robinson Museum Board and Community Trust Bank presented the event, which also included remarks by Grambling State University President Horace Judson, Grambling Mayor Martha Andrus, Ruston Mayor Dan Hollingsworth and former longtime GSU baseball coach Wilbert Ellis, among others.

"This is a project whose time came a long time ago," Judson said. "We're building momentum."

The museum board opened a temporary exhibit site on campus that coincided with the town of Grambling's Juneteenth festival. That stirred new hopes to rejuvenate a project that had been bogged down through a series of budget cuts at the state level.

Ater, whose office would oversee the proposed museum, pledged to see the funding through.

"We'll do what it takes to make it happen," said Ater, who took over in the summer after the death of Fox McKeithen. "We do truly have a national treasure in Coach Rob."

Andrus presented a key to the city of Grambling to Eddie Robinson Jr., who attended in place of his ailing parents. Museum board chairman John Belton recognized key supporters with plaques, including Ruston businessman Johnny Maxwell and several other local banks. He also made special mention of Lottie Green, the board's original chairwoman.

The master of ceremonies was Santoria Black, who broadcasts GSU's football games. In a tip of the hat to Robinson, Black wrote his speech on the back of an envelope - drawing laughs of appreciation from the audience.

"This is an historic occasion, one that's a long time coming," Black said. "It's great for Grambling, and it's great for America."

There also was a video presentation featured a recorded interview with Robinson, as well as remarks by Judson, Belton and GSU football coach Melvin Spears.

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Obstacle of location appears to be solved
Sunday, May 7, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — The ninth item on last Thursday's agenda might have been the single most important development in seven years of struggles to construct a museum honoring legendary former Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson.

The Louisiana Legislature passed a resolution authorizing the project in 1999, but it has never had a home. That is, until the museum board's building and grounds committee suggested, and got unanimous approval for, converting Grambling State's soon-to-be-vacant Women's Memorial Gym into exhibit space this week.

GSU president Horace Judson has signed off on the idea, as long as logistics can be worked out, said museum board chair John Belton.

"This is huge," enthused Belton, a Ruston attorney. "Everybody is on board; there were no dissensions. All we have to do now is raise the money for renovations."

Retired GSU baseball coach and family friend Wilbert Ellis, named to lead the Friends of the Eddie Robinson Museum fundraising group last month, played a key role.

He met with Judson, along with Belton and longtime faculty member David Lewis, on Monday to lay out the proposal. He then sold the idea to Doris Robinson, the ailing former coach's wife, who attended Thursday's meeting in a show of support.

"I'm excited because of the history; that would be an ideal place for it," said Ellis, who worked as an assistant to former coach and school president R.W.E. Jones and then led the baseball team for a staggering 43 combined years.

"It's exciting and encouraging," Ellis said, "and Coach would love it."

Mrs. Robinson pledged to return for every board gathering until the project was complete. Alumni — including D'Wayne Priestley, an active supporter from Dallas — quickly warmed to the idea, as well.

Priestley, in an e-mail of support to Judson on Friday, said: "If the women's gym can be used in this capacity and renovated to a representative facility, this site appears to be a win-win situation. This may ensure some degree of continuous funding and maintenance from the state of Louisiana, by having the museum on the GSU campus."

Indeed, re-energized state officials, along with prospective sponsors and potential museum designers, could be found this week in prominent seats on the bandwagon — which continued to pick up speed.

Representatives from the Secretary of State's office agreed to work on funding for maintenance and staffing. Two exhibit companies out of Tennessee made pitches to work on the project. Chase Bank is considering a major underwriting initiative.

That flurry of activity was particularly meaningful for former Robinson assistant coach Doug Porter. He and Belton are the only members to attend every museum board meeting over these seven long years.

"For me, there was never a question of feeling like it wouldn't happen," said Porter, the board's vice chair. "Some people said we were underdogs. But when I was coaching at Grambling, we always felt we could win. That's the same way I felt about this. I knew there were enough people who had a sincere desire to do something for Coach that it wouldn't die."

The 8,000-square-foot gymnasium, which was being used as practice space by GSU spirit groups, is certainly large enough to accommodate even the most grandiose exhibit plan.

"That's three times larger than the (former Alabama coach Paul) 'Bear' Bryant Museum," Belton said. "You have enough space to build an museum exhibit — and to expand in the future. The space is not limited. Even with (the originally appropriated but never administered) $5 million in state money, we couldn't build a museum space that large."

The gym, set to become vacant with the opening of a new Health, Physical Education and Recreation facility, would have to be retrofitted to provide adequate climate control and security. But, it's a prime location: on the village side of Grambling and in a visible spot on campus next to GSU's administration building, Long-Jones Hall.

Locating the museum there, and in this renovated historical setting, would work as a critical tool in recruiting, Priestley said.

"A possible by-product is the visitors to the museum may consider GSU for their child's higher educational needs," he said. "This will give alums, friends and others another reason to visit the campus and bring others. Hopefully, the exposure will generate more funding towards GSU."

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Proposed Eddie Robinson Museum gaining momentum
August 4, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — The proposed Eddie Robinson Museum received $63,500 in funding on Thursday as the long-delayed project gained surprising momentum.

"All I can say is God is good," enthused Wilbert Ellis, who heads up the project's fundraising arm. "Things are just falling into place."

Robinson led the football program at Grambling State for nearly 60 years, retiring in 1997 as the winningest coach in college history with 408 wins. He also mentored four future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees and won 17 conference titles along the way.

A bill to fund a museum that would honor those storied accomplishments was passed in 1999, but the plans hit a series of snags before its oversight board was reconstituted in 2005. A proposal to house the proposed exhibits in the former women's basketball gym on campus followed earlier this year.

That led to the Louisiana Secretary of State office's Thursday pledge of $50,000 in start-up funding for the next fiscal year, money that will be used for utilities and hiring a staff member. The funds are contingent on approval by the University of Louisiana System board to use the gymnasium as the museum site.

John Belton, a governor-appointed museum commission member, said the group was working with GSU school officials to present the idea for preliminary approval at the ULS' regular meeting later this month.

Secretary of State Al Ater confirmed the funding in an open letter presented at the Thursday museum commission meeting. Kyle Edmiston of the Ruston-Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau also presented $13,500 in funds earmarked for promoting the museum.

"This museum could have a huge impact on tourism in Lincoln Parish," Edmiston said. "We feel it could be one of the top, if not the top, site in the area."

Edmiston said he had also met with members of the local legislative contingency to discuss their continued support. The CVB has already provided office materials and clerical help.

"The convention and visitors' bureau has been there supporting this project from the beginning," Ellis said. "It's been a good marriage."

Belton said the Robinson family attorney was at work on a letter backing the project. The document, he said, would protect their rights through future licensing efforts, as well.

"This family is very, very happy about how everything is going," said Eddie Robinson Jr., son of the legendary former coach. "We are just excited about it."

The commission is continuing to iron out its contract with a national fundraising group. A brochure detailing these efforts is also being prepared for distribution to local supporters, chamber members and residents.

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Efforts to honor Grambling's Eddie Robinson continue to gain traction in year following his death
April 4, 2008

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Eddie Robinson's family spent the anniversary of his death in quiet reflection, even as efforts to build a museum in his honor continued at an ever-quickening pace.

Robinson, who coached at Grambling State University for 57 years, died from complications related to Alzheimer's on April 3, 2007. He was 88.

"I'm doing OK," Doris Robinson, the football legend's wife for 67 seasons, said Thursday. "Eddie Jr. and I are spending the day together. We've been so lucky to have each other."

Junior, who played for and then coached with his father at Grambling, became deeply involved with the museum project late in Robinson Sr.'s life. He's witnessed firsthand how the coach's passing helped push the initiative along.
"It has taken off," Robinson Jr. said. "That's so great for the family. It's an inspiration to all of us. We're all so very happy about that."

Help flowed in both from Grambling graduates and from faraway fans. Museum organizers, for instance, set up an informational table during the emotional day that saw Robinson's body lay in respose a year ago in the Capitol rotunda in Baton Rouge — only to run out of brochures in a flurry of activity.

Donations began showering down within days, from strangers and from familiar supporters alike. By June, two of Robinson's most famous former quarterbacks, Doug Williams and James "Shack" Harris, had given $10,000 to the project.

The Louisiana Legislature promised funding, then, later in the year, upped the pledge to $2 million for restoration of an on-campus gymnasium and grounds, as well as the museum's primary exhibit.

Donated memorabilia and other signature items then began flowing in from across the Grambling community.

"We are seeing so many people working on the same page, working as a team," said John Belton, the governor-appointed board chairman of the Robinson Museum commission. "Coach was all about that kind of effort, never about 'I.' This project has always been about uplifting that message, from Day 1."

That it took Robinson's passing to achieve this momentum is no small irony, in particular to longtime friends like Wilbert Ellis, who coached baseball at Grambling for more than 40 years.

"We wanted this to happen so badly in Coach's lifetime," said Ellis, now working as a fundraiser and spokesman for the proposed museum. "That didn't happen, but the time did finally come. Donations and offerings of help started happening right away after this death. There's no question, it was a rallying point. Eddie Robinson touched the lives of so many people."

A museum in Robinson's honor was first proposed nine years ago — two seasons after Robinson's retirement at Grambling and several before the onset of his final illness.

One of the points of contention for years was where the museum would be located, though that was resolved when GSU and its oversight board agreed to make room for exhibit space in the school's former women's gymnasium — where Robinson had once coached basketball early in his career, as well.

"What better thing can happen than for that museum to be housed on campus?" Ellis said.

A temporary exhibit of Robinson-related items opened in the lobby of the Grambling Stadium Support Facility in June 2005. But Hurricane Katrina's devastation sapped promised state dollars to build on that momentum.

Robinson's passing, organizers say, quickly refocused attention on the museum. The funds followed.

"We've been overwhelmed, and we continue to be," said Belton, his voice coloring with emotion. "I can only say that it's almost like he has his hands on the project from up in heaven. That's the best way I can put it."

A year later, Eddie Robinson's son said he finds solace on this somber anniversary within the ongoing efforts to honor Grambling's fallen coach.

They've kept his father's contributions in people's thoughts, he said, and helped ease the pain associated with losing a loved one — not to mention other subsequent health issues within his immediate family.

"You have special days in your life, even if they are sad ones, and this would have to be one of ours," Robinson Jr. said on Thursday. "In our own little way, we respect this date. We're not doing a whole lot. Just spending it quietly, together, and thinking of him."

SEE MORE of The News-Star's award-winning coverage of Eddie Robinson's passing, including staff-written stories, fan memories, more photo galleries, audio and video here:

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Selected 2003 Grambling preseason stories

A calm beginning
New faces key for GSU success
August 3, 2003

GRAMBLING - The glory of a fourth SWAC championship run for Grambling State begins quietly, on a sun-baked practice field across from the empty Robinson Stadium.

Just before 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, there is no crowd to cheer as Bruce Eugene, the Southwestern Athletic Conference's preseason offensive player of the year, tosses a few short passes. There is only the ceaseless hum of the huge air conditioning units at the nearby athletic facility.

He's steady, workman-like. Turns out, they all are - at least, at first. When the rest of sixth-year coach Doug Williams' team comes trotting out of the locker rooms, there is little joking around.

Despite three years of trophy raisings, despite being picked to return to the championship game at the SWAC's annual media conference this week, there is a sense of tension early on in this training session.

"It's our job to make sure the players don't get complacent," said Williams, who has compiled a 43-14 record since taking over from the legendary Eddie Robinson.

It's easily an hour before the first joke is told. Typically, that comes from a senior. Wide receiver Corey Brownfield sees Williams, who has just returned from the SWAC event in Alabama, and says: "You owe us a day!"

But, for the most part, no one is relaxed. Least of all the coaches, who bark orders until the very end. (Make that the very bitter end: Players, after two hours of practice, were made to run the length of the field twice, then 50 yards twice, then 20 yards twice before being sent to the showers.)

Williams says he'll use that kind of hard work - and a roster bubbling with new talent - to try to ascend to the championship for a fourth straight time. Grambling begins its season against San Jose State, playing in the first NCAA game of the year, on Aug. 23. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

"When we first got here, we didn't have a problem with playing the younger players," Williams said. "And if you look around, some of the young guys are better athletes than some of the older guys. We've got to keep our minds open to that mentality again - because it's been successful. We can say: Well, we've gotten to this place and the veterans got us here. No, the young guys got us here, because we've always played them."

It's safe, however, to use ink when filling in some key roster positions: Senior wide receiver Tramon Douglas joined Eugene on the first-team All-SWAC offense. Cornerback is set with seniors Seneca Lee, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe, and Octavius Bond.

But fans will see a huge influx of new linebacker talent: Both sophomore Dimitri Carr in the middle and sophomore David Hicks on the weak side drew vigorous praise from Williams on Saturday.

One of the other positions where the team is youngest is at running back. Henry Tolbert enters the season as the starter, but Williams said he remains a situational player.

"It all depends on what you would be asking Tolbert to do," Williams says of the 5-9, 180-pound sophomore. "He's not a guy who is going to pound it. If we are in a situation where we feel like we can run the ball, I think (fellow sophomore) Gideon Leonard is a guy who we would probably turn to."

Leonard is a good bit bigger, at 6-1, 250. Further back on the depth chart is a junior college transfer, Roger Smith. Williams says he may be the best Grambling State player who no one has heard of yet.

"We've got some cracker jacks," he said, also mentioning junior receiver Chris Day. "Those guys could really have a breakout year for us."

The team will practice in full pads for the first time on Tuesday.

"You can't tell much with just shoulder pads. Seven-on-sevens weren't that bad, but everyone is still feeling their way. Even the veterans," Williams said. "But that's part of any season early on. By the middle of next week, we'll be further along. The good part about it is we have a lot of veterans who will help in this situation."

Tiger bites: Freshman receiver Tim Abney out of Neville High drew some sideline praise when, during seven-on-sevens, he made an acrobatic catch from Eugene - fingertipping a 40-yard pass. ... Junior receiver Moses Harris - the star of the spring game, with three TDs - practiced Saturday with his mouth wired shut, after suffering a broken jaw. The wires are scheduled to be removed on Wednesday. ... Freshman quarterback and kicker Brandon Logan had his own cheering section at practice: His father drove up from San Antonio, shooting pictures as Logan worked with Williams.

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GSU feels heat of media blitz
August 10, 2003

Grambling State coach Doug Williams says he hasn't seen anything like this since - well, since back when he was under center: The national media has re-discovered his Tigers.

Three straight Southwestern Conference championships, along with a trio of black national championships, will do that. It's not just that Sports Illustrated has chosen GSU as the No. 1 preseason Division I-AA team in the country. (The Tigers are featured in SI's "2003 College Football Preview" issue for Monday, on newsstands across the country right now.)

There's more:

· Grambling State was also named the No. 1 black college team in the nation by the Sheridan Broadcasting Network. That poll comes from national media and sports information directors from historically black colleges and universities.

· Senior wide reciever Tramon Douglas has been selected to play in the 2004 East-West Shrine Football Classic. · Southwestern Conference coaches and sports information directors picked Grambling State to return to its title game. Junior signal-caller Bruce Eugene was chosen to repeat as SWAC offensive player of the year.

· Both Eugene and Tramon Douglas were named to the Street and Smith's magazine Division I-AA 2003 preseason All-America team. Both were also named to the Sports Network Division and the Athlon Sports I-AA All-America first teams.

As Grambling State takes today off to review film, the team and its coaches must also take stock in what that kind of recognition means for the once-tattered program.

"When I was playing at Grambing, you looked for - and played for - those kind of accolades," said Williams, who helped begin a series of four black national championships won at Grambling from 1977-80.

"Grambling is getting back to the point of being respectable," Williams said. "Grambling is back where people expect them to win."

But Williams has called the outpouring of pre-season honors "a double-edged sword."

He brought a copy of Sports Illustrated out to the practice field during this weekend's training sessions. "I told them about the respect that has been built, not only over the century but in the last few years, as well," Williams said. "The people who came before them worked hard, and won, and left all of this for them. That's a legacy they can continue, if they want to. But it's not going to come easy. It's not going to come cheap."

For instance, his Tigers have a looming home game against the No. 4 team on SI's list this year, McNeese. On the opening night of last season, the Cowboys rode roughshod over Grambling State in Lake Charles. McNeese would eventually finish as runner-up in the national Division I-AA title game.

Williams says his is a different team, one season removed from that 52-20 loss.

"I understood the McNeese game," Williams said. "Only seven of our guys had played together. We were still piecing players together. We were still experimenting."

At that point, Grambling State - which wouldn't lose another game until the season's finale against Southern - hadn't even settled on a quarterback.

"Now, it is a whole new ballgame," Williams said. "There's a different approach: We were more or less hoping last year. This year, we're expecting."

Grambling State returns to the practice field on Monday, with morning and afternoon sessions.

Camp bumps and bruises: The first dozen days of training have left a few of Grambling State's players nicked up - including star receiver Tramon Douglas.

"Tramon bumped his knee," Williams said. "We're taking every precaution (by keeping him out). He's in such good shape, we're not trying to kill him."

Sophomore tailback Henry Tolbert is also nursing a slight hamstring pull. Several others subbed at running back in his absence - including sophomore Michael O'Ree, who had 27 yards on four attempts across eight games last year.

Tigers on the defensive: While Williams has growing confidence in his defensive backs, he says he hasn't seen quite enough of the line to feel secure.

"I don't know yet. I think there is still a question mark there - and that's something that we have got to deal with," Williams said. "Hopefully, they will come through. I know the guys behind them, and the guys behind them will come through. The secondary is a pretty experienced group. Hopefully, everybody is going to look out for each other."

The defensive line returns starters Calvin Arnold as end and Jimmy Zachary at tackle. Grambling lost All-SWAC performers Antwan Lawrence at end and Willie Gray at tackle.

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Line-ing things up right
August 19, 2003

Grambling State has lost 11 starters all together - including top running threat Karrell Charles.

The Tigers were hardest hit, however, on both lines. The offense will see new left and right tackles, and a left guard. The defense must replace a defensive tackle and end.

An increased desire by the Tigers' coaches to establish the run will mean the players on the offensive side will have to grow into their roles quickly.

What they won't have to do is grow physically: None of the offensive lineman is under 300 pounds, with left tackle Johnathan Banks listed at a whopping 360. "They can just lean on somebody," GSU coach Doug Williams said.

Defensively, much is dependant on the play of linemen Lennard Patton and Jimmy Zachary, two juniors who will attempt to replicate the All-SWAC performance of Willie Gray. "I think Patton has to play well, along with Jimmie Zachary on the inside," Williams said.

A young, talented group of linebackers should cover early weaknesses long enough for this group to come along, Williams said.

"What we are worried about right now is getting the offensive line right," said record-breaking receiver Tramon Douglas. "We still have weapons all over the field. Once we get the offensive line playing as one unit, it's going to be hard for teams to beat us."

The main group going into camp also included: junior left guard Aquia Etefia; junior center Lance Wright; junior right guard Darryl Rodgers; and sophomore right tackle Andre Bennett. Coaches are quick to note, however, that the offensive unit's bulk doesn't translate into a sluggish attack off the snap.

"I feel good about the offensive line," Williams said. "In fact, I feel better about them this year than I did last year, even with the young guys. I think having Banks and Bennett in there is going to make us a better football team. You're talking about two guys who are fairly decent athletes for their size."

That athleticism should help key a running attack that has been missing from the team's recent pass-first scheme.

"This is a very young group," said offensive coordinator Melvin Spears. "But this group is a much more athletic group than we had last year. The addition of (freshman) Rueben Mays from (the University of) Tennessee at fullback helps us out a whole lot, too. The thing missing earlier was that we didn't have a real good fullback. Now, we do. You'll see us occasionally with two wide receivers, with a tight end and two backs."

· Coach: Doug Williams (sixth year at GSU, 43-15 record)
· Conference: Southwestern Athletic (Western Division)
· 2002 record: 11-2, 7-1 SWAC
· Plays at: Robinson Stadium
· Returning starters: 14 (Six on offense; five on defense; three on special teams).
· Basic offense: Multiple Pro Set
· Basic defense: Multiple 4-3
· Radio: KJMG-97.3 FM

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Going 1 on 1 with... Junior WR Moses Harris
August 19, 2003

By Nick Deriso
Junior wide receiver Moses Harris was a contributor to Grambling State's third-consecutive SWAC championship, ending up with 20 receptions along with 335 yards. But with a standout performance at this year's spring game, he appears poised to have a breakout season. Now, Harris - who began camp with his mouth wired shut after breaking his jaw while practicing over the summer - is finally able to talk about it:

With such an explosive performance at the Black and Gold game, you convinced everybody that you're this team's No. 2. Is that something you already knew about yourself?
I decided to build up my name this spring. I was focused. I decided to work on a whole lot of little things.

Then, you got injured. Did breaking your jaw hamper your off-season conditioning? Could you have lost a step?
The only thing I lost was weight. I had to eat through a straw. I was very happy to get the wires out of my mouth, and get my weight back up. Within the first two weeks, with the wiring in my mouth, I went from 180 to, like, 162.

Did you have to put food in a blender?
Yes, I'd blend it up. My favorite - it sounds weird to say - was blended-up pizza. Pepperoni, whatever came on a pizza - the crust and all - it just went in there. That was the best meal. At first, I was just eating the same things, then I started to try to blend different things up. I picked back up to 170.

The pizza was an experiment?
I knew I had to eat something! I even tried blending up a hamburger.

How difficult has it been to sit out?
I asked coach almost every day: "Coach, if I put on my stuff, will you let me get into the contact drills?" Nope. So, I conditioned and tried to stay in shape. I ran into a couple of dummies now and then.

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Still 4-boding
GSU maintains talent for run at 4th SWAC title
August 19, 2003

Sixth-year Grambling State coach Doug Williams says he would glance out his office window this summer and notice them: Young teammates working after practice, in the summer's heat, to get back to the championship.

The Tigers (11-2 overall, 7-1 for first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference) seem to know that they'll have to be in exceptional physical condition to move under the weight of so many expectations.

"Right now, we're on top and everybody wants to knock you off," said senior wide receiver Tramon Douglas - who, despite missing a game in 2002, led the nation in Division I-AA receiving yards. GSU's high-powered offense propelled the Tigers to their third-straight SWAC championship.

"You have to come out here every day with the mentality that you've got to work harder than you did last year," Douglas said. "Last year doesn't count this year. That's what motivates me: It's hard to get on top; it's even harder to stay there."

And how: No one has ever won the SWAC championship four times in a row.

Offensive coordinator Melvin Spears knows he can't do it without rethinking everything - even that celebrated offense.

"We wanted to supplement Tramon Douglas," Spears said. "We wanted to make sure that everyone will have to cover the whole field. They can't just come in and bracket him."

The bulk of Grambling State's offensive misdirection this year will come from wide receiver Moses Harris - who, despite having just 20 catches and one touchdown in 2002, streaked up the depth chart with an impressive off-season.

The unit is rounded out by returning senior Calvin Colquitt and several new additions, including junior transfer Chris Day and newcomer Bryan Carroll.

"If you double-team me, somebody else is going to have a great day," said Douglas, already honored with an invited to the East-West Shrine Game for his lofty numbers in 2002. "It doesn't matter to me, as long as we win."

"With Moses playing the way he has been playing, with Colquitt, Day and the freshman Carroll - that makes us very potent," Spears said. "We're also adding a few other things, like the running game. But the guy that makes it go is at the quarterback position."

That would be Bruce Eugene. Thrust into the leadership position as a sophomore last spring, Eugene was later demoted after the first game, then came back to break every significant Grambling passing record - most of which were set by his head coach back in the 1970s.

"He's a long way from where he was last year," Williams said. "He was still feeling his way. He had all of the abilities to throw the football. But now, he's not only making throws - but making good decisions."

Eugene has looked much more comfortable in the leadership role this off-season, directing the offense with polish and fire.

"It's partly getting older, but also playing the position," said Eugene, a Walter Payton Award finalist. "As quarterback, you've got to be a leader not only on the field, but off the field. I credit both Coach Williams and Coach Spears for getting me ready."

Spears doesn't take those off-the-field concerns lightly. "You know, Eugene is an honor student now," Spears said. "When he came to school, he was little lazy. But now he's applying himself in the classroom - and applying himself here on the field."

Eugene's quickly developing maturity, and his ability to avoid injury, will key the 2003 season for Grambling. "That's pretty much the key for any team - for their starting quarterback not to get injured," Eugene said. "We won't come in and surprise anybody this year. This year, every one knows we have talent. We'll have to show up and prove it."

While the defensive unit lost six starters from last year, coordinator Mike Roach has reloaded with immediate first-teamers like sophomore linebacker Dimitri Carr and senior cornerback Seneca Lee, a Louisiana-Monroe transfer.

"I knew, this being my last year, that I couldn't play around," said Lee - mirroring this team's aggressive approach to the offseason.

They'll need it: Even with a spotty SWAC schedule - Alabama State enters the year in turmoil over recruiting violations, for instance - the Tigers won't coast into the championship game.

The upcoming slate features two nationally known, non-conference programs - San Jose State, a rare Division I opponent, this Saturday; and McNeese State, the Division I-AA runner-up in 2002. "Last year, McNeese beat us pretty good," Lee said of the Tigers' 52-20 season-opening loss at Lake Charles. "But things will be different this time."

Too, as is tradition, the regular season ends with the always well-coached Southern University at the Bayou Classic. The Jaguars accounted for Grambling's only other 2002 loss.

"The respect that people have given us this year - whether that's write-ups in the newspaper, awards, polls, what have you - people are expecting a lot from us," Williams said. "Our players have to understand that it's up to them to keep that interest. Coach Roach told them: `This is hollowed ground.' So many great guys have come through here. Now, they have a chance to leave a stamp."

Count Tramon Douglas among those ready to get started. "All the young guys want to get themselves a ring," he said. "They ask me about in the locker room all the time. I'd like to go out as a winner, too. Four straight years as a champion? You can't beat that."

Coach speak
Q Once they get in sync, how dangerous will this offensive line be?
A With those big guys, all they'll have to do is be able to come off the ball. Just get any movement at all. You can't see behind them!
- GSU head coach Doug Williams

Grambling greats: Fred Hobdy

Grambling's Hobdy never lost his focus on life after basketball

July 13, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Fred Hobdy's players at Grambling would find themselves still huffing and puffing from drills, when he'd abruptly switch the subject.

There was more to life, the late coach would say, than just basketball.

"He wanted all of us to grow up to be productive citizens," said current GSU coach Larry Wright, the Southwestern Athletic Conference's 1975-76 Player of the Year under Hobdy. "He used to say that all the time: 'Basketball is not going to last forever.' He would always talk about that. When you first came, he made sure that you understand that basketball was a means to an education."

Wright would later win the 1978 NBA title with the Washington Bullets before returning to coach in the same office where Hobdy once sat.

"He was tough as coach; don't get me wrong," said Wright. "He worked your butt off. But at the end of the day, when you needed him, it was all together different."

Often times, Wright said, life lessons would come just after one of Hobdy's now-legendary practices — sweat-drenched affairs that stressed preparation and conditioning.

"He would be drilling you, running you like there is no more tomorrows, but afterwards if you had a problem he would switch hats," Wright said. "Instead of your coach, he became your father — so understanding of the problem, whatever it might have been. There was no way you could think a guy who had just been screaming at the top of his voice do that, but he did. I will always remember that."

Wright, whose voice colors with emotion at the very mention of his mentor, continues to lobby in the hopes that the basketball arena being constructed on campus will be named after Hobdy.

"I could say so many things about Coach Hobdy," said Wright. "When you start talking about the people who built Grambling," Wright mused, "you have to say (former football coach) Eddie Robinson. You have to say (former school president) R.W.E. Jones. I think you also have to say Fred Hobdy. He should be mentioned in the same breath."

Lessons in Leadership
This was another in our series profiling legendary coaches from around the area, and the effects they had on the athletic field and on their players' lives after the games ended.

About Fred Hobdy
Hobdy, a member of the Louisiana Sports and Southwestern Athletic Conference halls of fame, is rightly remembered for his contributions as a basketball genius. After all, he remains the winningest college coach in Louisiana with 572 victories between 1957-86. His teams won seven Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and the National Athletic Intercollegiate Association championship in 1961 - the last men's national title from this state. But that's not the full measure of Hobdy's legacy. A three-sport letter winner at Grambling, he later served as athletics director before passing in 1998. He's perhaps best known as a collegiate athlete for his contribution to a legendary 1942 squad that went unbeaten, even unscored upon, under Eddie Robinson.

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GSU fans want new arena to be Hobdy
January 28, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Grambling State University's Fred Hobdy won more college basketball games than any coach in Louisiana history.

It's only fitting, some fans and former players say, to put his name on GSU's new multi-purpose basketball facility.

"I love the idea of a Fred Hobdy Arena," said Michael Watson of Sicily Island, a 1977 graduate of GSU. "Coach was a winner."

Hobdy posted 572 wins, with 288 losses, over 30 seasons from 1956-86. His 1961 squad, paced by Basketball Hall of Famer Willis Reed, won the National Athletic Intercollegiate Association championship.

"I think naming the arena for Coach Hobdy is a great idea," said Reed, now vice president of basketball operations with the NBA's New Orleans Hornets. "Coach Hobdy spent his whole life there. He loved Grambling. He was a black-and-gold guy."

A member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Louisiana Sports halls of fame, Hobdy died on Dec. 8, 1998.

State Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Grambling, said naming school buildings after deceased individuals is handled through the University of Louisiana System Board. GSU president Horace Judson would need to write a letter of request to the board, Gallot said.

Former University of Louisiana at Monroe president Lawson Swearingen went through the same process in December 1999 when long-time Indians coach Lenny Fant's name was added to Ewing Coliseum on campus.

"Coach Hobdy is one of the winningest coaches in history, and a legend in basketball. There wouldn't be anyone moredeserving," said Gallot, who remembered attending Hobdy's summer camps "from the time I could dribble a ball — until I realized that I wasn't much of an athlete. He had an impact on so many people's lives, including my own."

Judson was out of town Thursday and unavailable for comment. Sally Clausen, president of the ULS, was also traveling and could not be reached.

"It would be an injustice and a disservice to name the arena after anyone other than Fred Hobdy," said current GSU coach Larry Wright, the SWAC's 1975-76 Player of the Year under Hobdy.

Jean Bush, a 1980 GSU graduate, added, "It's a fantastic idea to honor one of the legends that helped build the institution."

The long-delayed plan for a new basketball facility began during the tenure of GSU's second president, Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, in the 1970s. But the idea didn't pick up steam until 1994, when legislation was finally passed to issue $1 million in bonds.

Hobdy never saw the ground-breaking ceremonies. Another decade passed before $17 million in top-priority bonds was approved in 2004 to fund construction, with another $6.75 million set aside for use when needed.

"If there is anybody that I know of who it should be named after, it was him," said Rayville basketball coach Larry Wilson, who played in high school for Herschel West — one of Hobdy's best guards — and then for Hobdy at GSU.

Nicknamed "Lefty," Hobdy coached 26 All-Americans and his teams won seven SWAC championships. Along with the 1961 NAIA title, Hobdy's teams also earned two Midwest Conference championships, two NCAA regional championships and four NAIA district titles. Half of his 30 squads won 20 or more games, and two won 30 or more.

Basketball, however, wasn't the total measure of Hobdy's legacy at GSU.

He was an assistant on the baseball and football teams, and served as athletic director at GSU from August 1989 until September 1996.

Hobdy was a member of former football coach Eddie Robinson's legendary 1942 squad before leaving school to fight in World War II. That year, the Tigers not only finished undefeated, but were unscored against. The Winnfield native even played baseball for Jones.

"Coach Hobdy did so many significant things — and he did it while playing at Grambling and then coaching at Grambling," said Reed, who later won two NBA titles with the New York Knicks. "Naming the building after him would be a great tribute to a man who gave so much to the school."

The arena, now under construction behind Robinson Stadium on campus, is projected to open in the spring of 2006.

Produced by the Shreveport-based Newman Marchive Partnership, the original architectural plans call for a 7,705-seat athletic and academic facility. It's designed to house the women and men's basketball programs, as well as health, physical education and recreation departments — and would also serve as a multi-purpose assembly center for the university and surrounding community. Seating capacity would expand to approximately 9,000 during non-sporting events.

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Former GSU great Reed kicks off Hobdy endowment

September 26, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Former Grambling State University coach and athletics director Fred Hobdy coached 26 All-Americans and the last national championship by a men's basketball team from Louisiana in 1961.

Still, a group led by Hobdy's widow wants to make sure that he's remembered for more than those fading banners hanging on gymnasium rafters.

The Fred Hobdy Endowed Professorship in Education, endorsed by Mary Hobdy, has been established to supplement salaries and provide faculty support for research.

"'Hob' loved Grambling," said Mary Hobdy, whose husband died Dec. 8, 1998. "When the idea came up, I was really thrilled that his name will continue in perpetuity at this university."

The endowment recognizes a long-overlooked facet of contribution by Hobdy — who served 30 years as basketball coach, then later as athletics director through 1996.

"We all know about his success as a basketball coach," said Larry Wright, a late 1970s player who now coaches the men's team at GSU. "He was also a teacher for 30 years or better, a guy that worked in health fitness and education department for years. I think it's long overdue."

An important lead gift from Willis Reed — the Pro Basketball Hall of Famer who scored 2,280 career points for Hobdy in the early 1960s — has kicked off a fund drive to support the endowment.

"The fact that Willis Reed is working with it is a great thrill," said Mary Hobdy, also secretary to former GSU president R.W.E. Jones from 1956-77. "He was one of greatest players that 'Hob' coached, and a great person and humanitarian.

"I hope that it will inspire people and the players who came after to participate also."

GSU organizers hope to make a $60,000 donation at the February annual endowment ceremony on campus. The Louisiana Education Quality Support Fund, established by the state, would provide $40,000 in matching funds to create the professorship, said Ulysses Tucker Jr., annual fund director and major gifts officer.

The principal of this endowment, managed under guidelines set by the University of Louisiana System's Board of Regents, is never invaded, Tucker said. Funds are reinvested each year to provide growth as a hedge against inflation.

Reed, an executive of the New Orleans Hornets, said, "That's a new legacy, one that will also live as long as a university lives."

A standout with the NBA's New York Knicks in the early 1970s, Reed said he became involved in an effort to recognize both Coach Hobdy and his wife.

"It's honoring a person who was very significant to me and all of us, but also Mrs. Hobdy. She was our biggest fan, really enjoyed basketball," he said.

Hobdy squads, in addition to winning the 1961 NAIA title, also earned two championships in the Midwest Conference that Grambling called home before joining the SWAC, along with two NCAA regional championships and four NAIA district titles.

Fifteen of his 30 GSU teams won 20 or more games. Two won 30 or more.

That’s perhaps kept his past performers humble. Still, it’s hard to argue that the involvement of a player of Reed’s stature doesn’t create considerable buzz around these new fundraising efforts.
Hard for everyone but Reed.

“I’m just one of the boys who played for him,” Reed said. “Coach Hobdy had some great players. Over time, that would include Hershel West, probably one of the greatest basketball players to never play pro.”

In fact, Hobdy still holds the men’s hoops record for career victories in this state — despite retiring nearly 20 seasons ago.

As time passed, Wright — who left Grambling as a junior first-round draft pick then won the 1978 NBA title with Washington — was sadded that Hobdy might never again get the chance to influence young lives. Now, it appears that he could.

“I hope this is way that his name will be etched in stone forever,” said Wright, a longtime proponent of naming a basketball facility now under construction on campus after Hobdy. “I say this without hesitation: There has never lived a more loyal Gramblinite than Fred Hobdy. Never. Unconditionally.”

For Mrs. Hobdy, hearing Wright’s and Reed's fond memories serves as both tribute and sweet reminiscence.

“I would think about that, and the tears that I would cry would tears of joy at the contribution that he had made — even to those who weren’t stars,” she said. “The students that will be helped from (this endowment) will serve as a continuation of that, of everything ‘Hob’ was about.”

Working on the endowment has girded her through difficult treatments for cancer — an illness Mrs. Hobdy is determined to hold at bay until this tribute is made to her husband.

“I’m an optimistic person,” she said, “but I don’t think I have to be so great an optimist to see that this will one day happen. I just hope to be there.”

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Resolution drafted to name GSU arena after Hobdy

July 30, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — A Grambling State history professor has drafted a resolution asking that the university's new arena be named for former basketball coach Fred Hobdy. Next, Jimmy McJamerson will begin pressing school and state officials on the issue.

"The legacy is all inclusive, in the sense that he was a contributor at every level — as a teacher, an administrator and certainly as a basketball and football coach," McJamerson said. "He helped build the winning tradition at Grambling."

Hobdy, a member of both the Louisiana Sports and Southwestern Athletic Conference halls of fame, is rightly remembered for his contributions as a basketball genius. After all, he remains the winningest college coach in Louisiana with 572 victories between 1957-86. His teams won seven Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and the National Athletic Intercollegiate Association championship in 1961 — the last men's national title from this state.

But that's not the full measure of Hobdy's legacy at Grambling, McJamerson reminds. A three-sport letter winner at Grambling, Hobdy was a member of that legendary 1942 football squad that went unbeaten, even unscored upon, under Eddie Robinson. He later served as assistant football coach with Robinson and then athletics director before passing in 1998.

One of Hobdy's enduring dreams was a new basketball arena, a project that lingered as an idea from the late 1970s until very recently. Construction is nearing completion on the 135,000-square-foot facility, which will be capable of seating 7,500 for sports events and as many as 9,000 for other occasions.

"That building deserves to be named in his honor for the tremendous number of things he did to build the Grambling legacy throughout the nation and also throughout the world," McJamerson said.

His resolution reads, in part: "We earnestly recommend to Dr. Horace A. Judson, President of Grambling State University, and the Louisiana Board of Supervisors for State Colleges and Universities that the new assembly building be named in honor of Coach Fredrick C. Hobdy as a fitting tribute to this Son of the Black and Gold."

Former players and members of the Hobdy family hailed McJamerson's efforts as long-overdue recognition.

"It would be quite fitting for a basketball arena named after Coach Hobdy to stand next to the stadium named for Coach Robinson; they worked so closely together," said former player Larry Wright, now the GSU men's coach. "I could say so many things about Coach Hobdy."

Wright, the Southwestern Athletic Conference's 1975-76 Player of the Year under Hobdy, has consistently lobbied for naming the facility in his mentor's honor.

So has nephew William Hobdy, himself a former GSU basketball player.

"Fred Hobdy was one of the building pillars, along with Robinson and (legendary former president R.W.E. 'Prez') Jones," William Hobdy said. "His many accomplishments speak for themselves. Look at the record: If not for the giant shadow cast by Robinson, his name might be even more esteemed by Grambling's faithful."

Each mentioned not just Hobdy's accomplishments on the basketball court, but also the way he continued to provide support and guidance to students long after their playing days where done.
"Even in death he is still the winningest basketball coach in the state of Louisiana; no one is even close to his record," McJamerson said. "To add to that, he promised his players, even after they finished at Grambling, all they had to do was pick up the phone and call him and he would be there. He lived up to that promise, as a man of his word. He was a mentor when they needed him later. That speaks to the nature of the man. I have nothing but love and respect for him."

About the resolution
Grambling State history professor Jimmy McJamerson has drafted a resolution urging school and state officials to name the new basketball arena on campus in honor of former coach Fred Hobdy.

The resolution makes for a dramatic retelling of one of the school's most important coaching and administrative pioneers.

Included is recognition of Hobdy's stints as high school basketball coach at GSU, Peabody High and Grambling High, as well as teaching and administrative positions that included physical education instructor, men's and women's basketball coach, assistant football coach, assistant athletic director and AD.

The resolution also notes that Hobdy was named conference coach of the year six times, coached 26 All-America honorees and sent 16 players to the professional ranks.

McJamerson asks that anyone wishing to sign the resolution, or with questions about it, call him at 254-5067 or send an e-mail to

Friday, August 25, 2006

The time that Doug left

Williams to leave Grambling for Tampa?
February 12, 2004

We broke the story nationwide, something that's getting harder and harder to do these days. This multi-story package was eventually recognized with several awards.

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State coach Doug Williams is in Tampa Bay today, where he is expected to accept a front-office position with the Buccaneers - the NFL team that made him a first-round draft pick in 1978.

Assistant head coach Melvin Spears confirms that Williams has been offered a job as a personnel executive. Tampa Bay has scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference today in Florida.

The sudden call from Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen came as Williams and Spears sat watching GSU's newest quarterback signee, two-sport athlete Brandon Landers, play a basketball game at Carroll High School on Tuesday.

"They called him on his cell phone - and that was when he first got wind of it," Spears said. "It wasn't like he knew for long."

Williams, who returned to his alma mater in 1997 as Grambling State's seventh head football coach, was unavailable for comment. GSU athletics director Al Dennis was out of town on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay media relations personnel also refused to release details.

But acting GSU President Neari Warner confirmed that she was aware of the situation on Wednesday. She said Dennis, while traveling from Baton Rouge, had called her and said Williams was talking with Tampa Bay about a position.

"Doug just made the courtesy call. We don't have anything concrete," Warner said.

Asked if Williams had accepted a position, she added: "I don't know. I don't have that verified yet."

Williams' success at Grambling State - including Southwestern Athletic Conference championships in 2000-02 - sparked regular interest from several programs during the past few seasons. Williams entertained the job offers, even while he continued building his local legacy. His 40 wins since 2000 matched the Tigers' wins in the previous seven seasons combined.

"It's no different than a person who has his master's going to get his doctorate," Williams said in December. "Everyone looks for a window, for an opportunity. If it's there and it fits, and there's a challenge, you've got to take advantage of it."

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Doug Williams made his mark - and quickly
February 12, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State might never again author a master stroke as deft as replacing the towering Eddie Robinson with an outsized protégé like Doug Williams.

"When I came here in 1997, our slogan was 'The Dawn of a New Era,'" Williams said in December. "I think we've accomplished that."

It wasn't easy. This is a school that had witnessed its last coaching transition in 1941, when gas was 19 cents a gallon. World War II was still an idea, not a headline.

Robinson would go on to cast a shadow that not many could escape: His 1942 GSU squad, one of two to go undefeated, was unbeaten, untied - even unscored upon.

Robinson retired in 1997 after 57 years at Grambling State, but not before adding 81 more victories to Paul "Bear" Bryant's once-unassailable 323 college football wins. That mark was finally topped this year by John Gagliardi - coach at St. John University, a Division III school in Minnesota. The former Grambling State University football coach had held the record since 1984.

But Williams - primarily through the force of his towering personality - managed to carve out his own niche. He was able to do so because he had a name coming in, and not just based on those oft-repeated Super Bowl heroics.

No, Williams had credibility in Lincoln Parish because of what he did for the G-Men, not for Joe Gibbs: He took over in the fifth game of his freshman season in 1974, and never looked back - posting a 36-7 record as a starter.Seventeen of Grambling State's 20 Southwestern Athletics Conference championships came on Robinson's watch. Three of those titles - in 1974, '75 and '77 - featured Williams at quarterback.

But even while he assembled his own addendum to that playing career of heroics, Williams never forgot the coach that opened the door. No one who comes next will be able to either.

"My time at Grambling will be secure," Williams said this season. "But I also think that Eddie Robinson's time at Grambling is the reason why I am here. You can't lose sight of that."

He quickly re-established himself as one of the area's true characters - a very nearly bottomless font of quotes and opinions and scuttlebutt. Knowing his number meant knowing the score.

Yet, when Williams occasionally took it too far - drawing the interest, say, of the NCAA into comments he made concerning the possible transfer of troubled Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett - he could honestly say it was all for his old school.

"Publicity," he would say, evenly. Then, that wide, wide smile.

For a country school that's a county mile from anywhere, he figured that made sense. And, you know what? It did. His new recruiting class features three of The Insiders Top 100 prospects from Texas - not to mention The News-Star's offensive player of the year.

Williams now looks to follow another former Grambling State and NFL alum into pro football's boardrooms: James "Shack" Harris is an executive with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Our program has now produced two front-office executives in the National Football League," enthused Michael Watson, a 1977 graduate of Grambling State. "Not only is this a testament to the character and success of Doug and James Harris, it is a positive reflection on the type of leaders produced by our university. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the commonality of both men - having been coached and mentored by the great Eddie Rob."

Williams staked his claim comparatively quickly, remaining just six seasons - but winning 52 games. His place in the trophy case expanded with three more SWAC trophies, this time from the sidelines.

"Coach Robinson's legacy will be here forever," Williams said. "It will overshadow Grambling as long as there is a football program. But, I think right underneath, Doug Williams' name will appear."That will make replacing him almost as hard as it had been with Robinson.

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Spears among GSU possibles
February 12, 2004

By Nick Deriso
The search for the next head football coach at Grambling State could start from within.

If Grambling coach Doug Williams today accepts a front-office job with the Tampa Buccaneers as expected, Tigers assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Melvin Spears would be a prime and willing candidate to take the reins.

"That's one of the things that Coach Williams and I have been talking about for a long time," Spears said Wednesday night. "His tutelage has helped prepare me for a day like today. If I'm asked to, I would be honored to be a part of this tradition."

An original member of Williams' staff since 1997, Spears was an instrumental figure in Grambling's winning three straight Southwestern Athletic Conference championships from 2000-02. In addition to directing Grambling's record-breaking offense, Spears also serves as the top recruiter.

Even as the news of Williams' possible departure broke Wednesday, Spears was working with the program's best interest at heart.

"My task right now, as the assistant head coach, is making sure that our signees are solid," Spears said. "They have to understand that they are at Grambling, and great things happen here. We've got to get them prepared and ready to go for next year."

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Williams looks at Homecoming II
February 12, 2004

By Nick Deriso
Can you go home again ... and again?

Just six seasons after Doug Williams returned to his alma mater to coach, he is set for another homecoming: This time, he looks to take a job with the NFL franchise that drafted him out of college.

Williams, who replaced mentor Eddie Robinson in 1997 at Grambling State, is expected to accept a front office position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at a 1 p.m. news conference today. Tampa Bay made Williams a first-round pick in 1978.

"It's going to be tough to match what we've done," Williams said recently of his time at Grambling State. "Winning is something that you always want to do, but when you sit back, you have to ask yourself: 'What's left?' That's why, if the opportunity came and I decided to leave, I wouldn't feel bad."

It apparently came from the Buccaneers - who went 5-11 in Williams' rookie year. Still, that was a resounding success for a club that had lost 26 in a row during its first two seasons - 11 of them by shutout.

A season later, Williams would lead Tampa Bay to the NFC championship game, where the Bucs fell to Los Angeles. Williams added another division title in 1981 - the last that Tampa Bay would win until 1999.

Williams had a remarkably similar experience getting started at Grambling State.

He went 5-6 in 1998 and then 7-4 in 1999 - but that seven-win mark was one more than GSU had in two combined seasons before he arrived. Williams would then reel off three consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championships.

That success, as it had in Tampa Bay, made him a prime target for moving on.

"Windows only open every now and then," Williams said in December. "When opportunity comes, you can't sit here and say: 'Next time.' There might not be a next time."

Tampa had traded the No. 1 pick in the 1978 draft to Houston for a player and four draft picks - the first of which, No. 17 in the first round, was used to draft Williams.

Yet, after taking the Buccaneers to the playoffs three times in five seasons, Williams had a nasty contract dispute with late owner Hugh Culverhouse - and left for the since-disbanded United States Football League.

Still, Williams' return to the NFL had all the same suggestions of family and connectivity: He was recruited to Washington by Joe Gibbs, who would coach Williams to a 1988 Super Bowl win. Gibbs had been the Bucs' offensive coordinator in 1978.

So a move to Tampa Bay would be reliably symmetric for Williams. Still, it came suddenly.

"Coach Williams and I are very, very close," said assistant head coach Melvin Spears - who recruited all of Grambling State's 26 football signings this year. "Now, all of sudden he's not going to be with me."

Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen called on Tuesday and Williams was in Florida on Wednesday.

Less than 48 hours after Williams' cell phone rang, he's right back where he started. Again.


Doug Williams confirms move to Tampa Bay, GSU fans react

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING – Six seasons after taking over for a coach who had been at Grambling State for nearly 60 years, Doug Williams is leaving.

Williams confirms exclusively to The News-Star that he will accept a job as an executive in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers personnel department at a 1 p.m. press conference in Florida. “Grambling has always been home to me,” he said. “But this was home, too.”

Williams followed his mentor Eddie Robinson – whose coaching tenure at Grambling State stretched back to the early 1940s – and posted a 52-18 mark. An in-depth interview with Williams will appear in the Friday edition of The News-Star – and online.

“I never expected Coach Williams to stay at Grambling as long as Coach Rob did,” said Earling Hunter, a 1998 GSU graduate. “But I always expected his departure to be for a coaching job at a larger school, in a larger conference. I never saw this move coming. When rumors began a few weeks ago, we all dismissed it like many of the previous rumors that developed concerning Coach Williams. I, like many GSU fans, am in shock with this move. But I appreciate what Coach Williams has done for GSU. He put us back to our rightful place as one of college football’s elite.”

Williams took over a program in 1998 that had sent four players to the Pro Football Hall of Fame – but hadn’t had a winning season in four years. In 2001, Williams led GSU to its first outright Southwestern Athletic Conference championship since 1989 – then added two more to the 17 titles that Robinson had won.

For some fans, the departure completes a circle begun when Williams was first drafted into the NFL as a first-round pick by Tampa Bay in 1978.

Still, Doug Williams departs for a homecoming of a different sort in Tampa Bay, a club that balked at a long-term contract agreement after he led the Buccaneers to the playoffs three of his five seasons there.

Williams promptly left for the USFL – and Tampa Bay endured 14 consecutive losing seasons. Williams, would return to the NFL under the guidance of former Bucs offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs, and became the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Williams threw four touchdowns and was named the game’s most valuable player while leading Washington to a 42-10 win over Denver 42-10 in the 1988 Super Bowl.

Williams’ relationship with Tampa Bay was later repaired after the death of owner Hugh Culverhouse. His son gave $1 million to the Grambling State football program in 2002 – a grant that Williams said was used on facilities, uniforms, traveling gear and non-athletic scholarships.

Williams oversaw the signing of a 20-plus member class of football prospects this month, before getting the sudden job offer from new Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen.

“I know that many of our faithful fans will be outraged, but I won’t be one of those,” Hunter said of Williams’ departure. “If he has to leave us, I want to thank him for leaving us in the position that he has placed us: A talent-loaded football team with a chance to win the SWAC every season.”

Williams retired from the NFL in 1990. Before returning to Grambling State, he had coached at his former high school in Zachary, was a scout for the NFL’s Jacksonville franchise, served as offensive coordinator with the World League’s Scottish Claymores and was head coach at Morehouse College in Georgia.

A 2001 inductee into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame, Williams was named the SWAC coach of the year in 2000-01 and then the 2002 Sheridan Broadcasting Network’s Division I-AA coach of the year while at Grambling State.

“I can’t say that I am surprised by the news,” said Kenn Rashad, a 1990 graduate of Grambling State. “Before the 2003 season started, I always had a feeling that it would be his last as the coach at Grambling. There were just too many rumors flying around about Doug filling coaching vacancies at other programs. It was just a matter of time. But I think the timing of this move is right on point. If you are going to leave on your own terms, you might as well leave while you are on top.”


GSU delays naming interim coach
February 16, 2004

Administrators at Grambling State University today stopped short of naming an interim head football coach to replace Doug Williams.

Instead, GSU acting President Neari Warner read a statement from University of Louisiana System Chairman Mike Woods, which said an interim wouldn’t be named to replace Williams because of "renewed interest on the part of the ULS board" to keep him.

Williams resigned on Thursday to take an executive position in personnel with Tampa Bay.

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Williams still headed to Tampa
February 19, 2004

Doug Williams will stay with Tampa Bay.

"We met with Mr. (Bruce) Allen for about an hour today," Sally Clausen, University of Louisiana System president, said in a telephone interview late Tuesday. "After allowing us to make our case, he informed us that the Buccaneers would not allow Coach Williams to reconsider his decision to leave Grambling."

Williams signed contracts last week with the Bucs for a front office job. He has maintained he is going to Tampa Bay and expects to be in Indianapolis on Thursday for the NFL scouting combine as a Bucs representative.

Clausen called Allen "gracious" for agreeing to Tuesday's meeting in Tampa, Fla.

As first reported at,/ Clausen, Board of Supervisors chairman Mike Woods, Board members Andre Coudrain and Walter Rhodes, and state Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Grambling, flew to Tampa to meet with Allen to request that the Bucs allow Williams an opportunity to reconsider his decision to join the NFL team.

"Professional football is a business," Clausen said. "The Buccaneers saw an opportunity to hire a legend and made him a strong offer. We respect that. We knew going in that the odds were against us. Mr. Allen had offered us no hope of changing his mind, but we made the trip because we thought there might be a small chance that we could influence him."

It's uncertain what will happen next at Grambling. On Monday, administrators at the 102-year-old university were prepared to name an interim head football coach. Assistant head coach Melvin Spears was the leading candidate for the position. And, Williams had endorsed that move.

But that ended at 3 p.m. Monday when GSU acting President Neari Warner read a statement from Woods that said the board wanted to try explore a way to keep Williams.

"What's got to happen now is we'll hear back from the board and go from there," said Albert Dennis, GSU's athletics director. "Unfortunately, I had a feeling from talking to Doug that it might be a done deal. I think that's still ultimately what he wanted to do."

Clausen and ULS Board members didn't act sooner because they didn't know Williams had signed the contract with Tampa Bay until after the Bucs made the announcement, she said.

Clausen was in Washington when she received a call that Williams was talking to Tampa Bay about a position, she said.

When she realized Friday that Williams had signed a contract with the Bucs, "it took me by surprise," she said. "I saw him briefly during the Christmas holidays and asked him if he was going to hang in with us and he indicated he was going to do that."

Williams said he felt good about his decision to go to Tampa.

"Leaving got tougher when Dr. Clausen got involved, though," he said Tuesday afternoon after Clausen returned. "They made me feel like a major part of Grambling; that I was wanted. I didn't feel that before."

Clausen called this particular time "pivotal" for Grambling. The university is seeking a new permanent president.

"As Grambling's management board, it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to support the next president and build a successful future for the university," Clausen said. "We saw this trip as part of that effort."

Woods offered the use of his personal airplane at his expense and Coudrain bought lunch for the group, Clausen added.

"Coach Williams is an icon in American sports - a wonderful mentor to students and a legend at Grambling," Woods said.

"It was worth our time and effort to keep him because we think the next Grambling president would benefit from his presence," Woods said. "It would have been irresponsible of us to let him go without a public plea to keep him."

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Grambling players react to Doug's departure
February 19, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING – A team meeting at Grambling State on Tuesday turned into an emotional referendum on the coming season – and on replacing the departed Doug Williams.

After acting GSU president Neari Warner made some brief remarks, she opened up the floor for discussion – and both center Lance Wright and quarterback Bruce Eugene gave heart-felt speeches.

Wright, in particular, seemed intent on sparking the quieting crowd to regroup.

“At Grambling, it’s about tradition, it about excellence – and that is in motion already,” Wright said. “Coach Williams set the bar, now we are ready to raise it.”

Williams, in his sixth season at his alma mater, quit in a 6:30 a.m. Tuesday phone call to Grambling State Athletics Director Al Dennis. He has accepted a front-office position in personnel with Tampa Bay, the NFL franchise that drafted him in the first-round out of GSU in 1978.

Dennis said he and Warner will meet today to complete the needed paperwork for Williams’ resignation. Those forms will then be mailed to Baton Rouge – in advance of an announcement on an interim head coach.

“We want to follow the correct processes,” Dennis said. “This is a high-profile job, and we have to follow both the state and the university regulations.”

Warner said an announcement would be made at 3 p.m. Monday. But neither she nor Dennis would comment on who would get the nod as interim coach.

The players, meanwhile, made a vocal point of their support for assistant head coach Melvin Spears in the Thursday afternoon team meeting.

Warner was visibly moved when Eugene called for a voice vote on naming Spears as head coach – and the entire room erupted.

“He has everything to do with our success,” said Eugene, who will be a senior this season. “He’s had a hand in everything we do. Who else would be better for the job? Why mess up what’s going on around here?”

The meeting was the result of an early morning phone call by Warner to Sally Clausen, president of the University of Louisiana System. Clausen said her advice to Warner was that she should pull the team together as quickly possible, if only to remind them of their importance to the Grambling State family.“

We have to encourage them,” Clausen said, “so they don’t feel abandoned.”

The ULS is searching for a new, permanent president for Grambling State. Warner announced earlier this year that she wouldn’t seek the job – and that she intends to retire as soon as a new president takes the helm sometime in late June or early July.

But that doesn’t mean she’ll avoid this tough decision, according to Clausen.

“This is a time when Dr. Warner can be a very strong, decisive leader – and I think she will,” Clausen said.

Williams had been Grambling State’s first new head coach since 1941, when the legendary Eddie Robinson took over. None of the players on the current roster has played for any other head coach at GSU.

Even a day later, some of the shock had not yet worn off.

“I was surprised,” Wright said. “Last night, it was a heavy blow. But they instill in us a belief in Grambling – and for not settling for less. That will continue.”

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Doug spends last day packing, remembering, waiting
February 18, 2004

Nick Deriso
Doug Williams sat in his half-empty office on Tuesday, signing footballs and talking about the New York Yankees' stunning trade for reigning MVP Alex Rodriguez.

The baseball team trains across the street from Raymond James Stadium - home of Tampa Bay's NFL franchise.

Those are the same Buccaneers who lured Williams away from Grambling State last week to work as an executive in personnel.

But he wasn't talking about that.

He wasn't talking about the footballs, either, for a while. But they kept coming - from players and fans and assistants and fans and more fans. Each was wrapped in a Wal-Mart bag until, presumably, the Ruston store ran out of regulation-size balls.

Finally, he grew weary of signing, after almost an hour.

"They need to let me do the Wal-Mart football commercial," he said, chuckling. He kept signing.

Williams then talked about buying a new car in Tampa Bay, about getting a house, and getting his son D.J. in school in Florida.

What he wasn't talking about was the University of Louisiana System board's 11th-hour push to convince the Bucs to break his contract - one that included a sudden flight to Florida, then presumably a sullen flight home.

He wasn't talking about that in particular. What was there to say?

Williams continued his preparations to leave, even as negotiations to keep him at GSU continued one time zone away. There was something about it that was both sad and ironic: Williams now admits that, had these efforts come last month, he might never have left.

"It's one of those things," Williams said. "If Dr. Clausen would have been in the negotiations from the beginning - who knows what would have happened?"

System president Sally Clausen is to be commended for her interest in Grambling State. She can be largely credited with keeping the school, as it teetered on the brink of accreditation oblivion, from getting pushed over by bad accounting.

But even her ferocious efforts were to no avail this time. Tampa Bay refused to let Williams out of his contract.

So, it was back to signing more footballs - even while Williams talked about getting a haircut, about seeing Grambling Lab play basketball on Tuesday night.

Then he got on a Web site to check the weather at Indianapolis - where he will be traveling, it's now mercifully confirmed, to scout the NFL Combine for Tampa Bay.

The temperature there today is slated to be sah-sah-sah-seven degrees. Williams joked that he will be packing heavy.

Doug Porter, a former assistant under Eddie Robinson at Grambling State, ventured that Maurice Clarett would probably attend.

"I'd get a chance to meet him," Williams enthused about the former college star who once flirted with attending GSU. "The NCAA can't do anything now."

He laughed, and laughed. There was a mounting sense of relief about Williams.

Williams told a story about something that happened after the 1 p.m. news conference to introduce him at Tampa Bay. There was an older couple who had tirelessly waited outside - each holding one end of a sign that read: "Welcome back, Doug."

Williams didn't eventually emerge from watching player films until 5:30 p.m."It kind of blows you away," Williams said. "They had been standing out there all that time!"

Unfortunately, so had the ULS. They simply walked into the situation far too late to save Grambling State from itself.

But my hope is that the group's emotional pleas on Williams' behalf might awaken the pride of ownership that GSU fans and administrators should have had all along in Williams.

See, there's much to be proud of still: Grambling State may have lost Doug Williams, but it was only to give him to the world.