Saturday, December 30, 2006

Remembering: Eddie Rob's right-hand men

Robinson's former Grambling assistants reminisce
April 18, 2005

Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Those who worked with Eddie Robinson are in an exclusive fraternity. Robinson retired in 1997 after nearly 60 seasons as head coach at Grambling State, yet throughout that time his staffs had remarkable stability.

"We enjoyed a great opportunity, to get to know and get to work with one of the game's great minds," said Doug Porter, whose 42 coaching seasons included eight with Robinson beginning in the late 1960s. "I realize now how lucky I was."

These coaches, friends and co-workers, will be honored on Friday night during a banquet at 6 p.m. at the Washington-Johnson Complex. For details, call the Grambling State football office at 274-6539 or the athletics department at 274-2374.

"We're sending out an open invitation to all of the former coaches that worked with Coach Robinson," said Melvin Spears, GSU's eighth head coach. "We hope to see the Melvin Lees, the Doug Porters, the Billy Mannings, the Ed Stevenses - all the guys. We want to say how much we appreciate them laying this foundation for us."

Rare was the Robinson staff turnover, long were the tenures. There was an old-school mix of ex-players and family.

For instance, Lee, the former center on Grambling's undefeated 1955 team, then spent 40 years under Robinson as an offensive coach. He put his own indelible stamp on the Wing-T scheme that would contribute to a record-breaking 408 wins at Grambling.

"He was the offensive coordinator after Coach Porter left. He was dedicated," said former receiver and current assistant Sammy White, who played for both Porter and Lee. "Before I left here, we were throwing the ball probably 60 percent of the time out of the Wing T. That was all because of Coach Lee."

Manning played for Robinson, then had a long tenure coaching the offensive line for him. The late defensive coordinator Fred Collins was alongside Robinson for more than 20 seasons.

Eddie Robinson Jr., now the coach at Grambling Lab, grew up around GSU football - and eventually worked as an assistant with his father.

"You can probably talk about it more in retrospect," said Robinson Jr., who worked with Grambling's offensive backfield and receivers for 15 seasons. "At the time, there wasn't much time to think about that. When it all boils down, it was like any other situation when you work for a guy. He could be very demanding, and that caused you to be that way too."

A cyclic, almost seasonal rhythm is found in the history of this group. Connections are made, and never broken. In the 1960s, Robinson was invited to speak at the awards banquet for Cocoran High in California by assistant coach "Convincer" Calloway, who had played at Grambling. Robinson met Ed Stevens, the head coach, and Jim Gregory, a talented quarterback.

Gregory - later famously dubbed "Grambling's White Tiger" - eventually played for Robinson and Stevens would work on his staff for years.

In fact, Robinson's first assistant, Jessie Applewhite, was a former football player then working as the school's night watchman.

Ernest Sterling, another ex-GSU gridiron great, later became known for his "Trees of Terror" as defensive line coach. He put in more than two decades as an assistant - then became one of just two coaches who stayed on when Doug Williams succeeded Robinson.

Even Porter, who had a relatively short term, has remained associated with the program. When he retired after 42 seasons in coaching, Porter returned to Grambling to work as an adviser to Williams and now Spears.

He's also remained friends with the coach who took over offensive duties when Porter left GSU.

"Melvin Lee lives three doors down from me, so our families are very close," said Porter, who was on the legendary Tigers' staff that had every senior drafted by the NFL in 1969. "We like to tell stories about the great games, and those ties we always wore, and the players. We'll try to tell the best tale, or the tallest tale."

By Robinson's own estimation in his 1999 autobiography "Never Before, Never Again," nine of the coaches in 1997 had fathers who had played for Grambling.

"Most of the guys on the staff had played for him," said Robinson Jr., "so they knew him as well as I did. They were guys who were there when I was playing, and they were still there when I got on the staff in 1984. Coach Lee had coached me. There was a tradition to uphold."

That tradition was one of endurance, of loyalty. Robinson once said that his six early-1990s assistants had been coaching with him for an amazing 102 seasons combined.

They each contributed something to Robinson's storied stay.

"I think we need to make certain that we recognize that legacy," said Spears. "What we want to do is continue to expose the young guys to the things that have gone on here before, to the great history we have."

What they say ...
Two of Eddie Robinson's assistants reminisce about working for him:

Favorite win
--Eddie Robinson Jr. (1984-97): We had a lot of them. (Laughs.) I always remember the games where we were behind, especially against Alcorn, and then came back and won. Anytime you get a victory like that, you remember it. The Bayou Classic in 1992, for instance, we were behind for most of the game. Then we came back and won it at the end.
--Doug Porter (1966-74): I don't think I have a favorite. I remember fondly our first trip to Hawaii, and our first trip to New York. It seems like most of my best memories, ironically, were away from Grambling.

Compare and contrast
--Porter: It's more of a business today among the coaches. There's not as much camaraderie. I was blessed to meet and get to know some of the giants - John Merritt (who coached at Jackson State and Tennessee State), Jake Gaither (of Florida A&M) and, of course, Eddie Robinson. I don't compare the players, either. With the way Division I programs are recruiting, there aren't the sleeper players you used to find.

Final thoughts
--Robinson Jr.: It was quite an experience for me because I had grown up around Grambling football. We got to go to a lot of places that I never dreamed I would go. And I got to go there with him.

What he said ...
The now-ailing Eddie Robinson mentioned several assistants in his 1999 autobiography, called "Never Before, Never Again":

· On Melvin Lee: It would be impossible to describe how much Melvin Lee meant to me over all these years. It was his genius that helped make out Wing-T offense so effective for so long.

· On Eddie Jr.: We never pushed Eddie Jr. to be involved in athletics. We hoped he would be a doctor or a lawyer. We wanted him to do whatever he wanted to do and be the best at it. But all he ever wanted to do was play and then coach. ... I loved coaching with him, each and every day.
· On Ernest Sterling: Ernest coached with me for 24 years. He had played for me and then in the NFL. He was like a rock and my foundation guy.

· On Doug Porter: I told Doug Porter, who was then (in the early 1970s) my 42-year-old chief assistant, that he should stay at Grambling because he would probably succeed me in a few years. Decades later, he joked with me - because he was smart enough to take the head coaching job at Howard.

The legacy continues ...
Former Grambling State assistant Doug Porter is just one of several coaches to find success after working with Eddie Robinson.

Porter - who had previously served as head coach at Mississippi Valley from 1961-65, a tenure that included a conference title in 1963 - left GSU for a stint at Howard University from 1974-78. He finished his coaching career in 1997, but not before leading Division II's Fort Valley State to a 106-61-3 record over 16 seasons.

Several former assistants continue to coach, ensuring the Robinson legacy will continue. For instance, SMU's current defensive tackle coach Joe Sawyer oversaw GSU's D-line from 1991-93. Dennis Winston, an assistant in 1992-94 then again in 1995-97, coached at Toledo for four seasons before accepting a position with the CFL's Edmonton franchise this offseason.

Lee Fobbs, a former player and graduate assistant, has had a long career in coaching - most recently as a fifth-year assistant to Dennis Franchione, first at Alabama and now at Texas A&M. He was a finalist to follow Robinson as head coach at Grambling, and then in the search for a replacement for Doug Williams.

Tennessee Tech's linebackers coach Marty Steward was on Robinson's staff during his final season. Williams Jones III, a defensive assistant in 1994-95, has been at Kentucky State and now Pearl River (Miss.) Community College.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Grambling's 2004 coaching search

GSU set to crank up bid for coach
Former Alabama St. coach among early applicants

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - New Grambling State athletics director Willie Jeffries arrives on campus this week, set to begin going through a growing stack of resumes for a head football coach.

The News-Star has confirmed several applicants, including interim GSU coach Melvin Spears.

"I did that on the first day (the job was posted)," said Spears - the former offensive coordinator who took over for Doug Williams in February, then led GSU to a 6-5 record during an injury-marred season. "I haven't heard from anybody. I guess they'll start when school gets back in (today)."

New school president Horace Judson has indicated that the interview process would begin in early January. GSU's timetable is tightened by the recruiting season, which culminates with National Signing Day on Feb. 2.

Another confirmed applicant is from outside the GSU family, former Alabama State coach L.C. Cole.

"I have applied, but I have not talked to anyone officially," said Cole, who was released by ASU amid accusations of NCAA violations - including improper contact with recruits, funding a strip show for recruits and knowingly practicing ineligible athletes.

Alabama State school president Joe Lee later cleared Cole of several of those allegations - but Cole had already gotten a job as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Concordia University, a Division II program in St. Paul, Minn.

"I did a lot of good things in the (Southwestern Athletic Conference) and I wouldn't mind getting back into it," Cole said. "Grambling needs someone who could go in there and get going. That's why I think I would be a strong candidate."

Cole and Concordia head coach Mark Mauer played together at the University of Nebraska, a program which also has produced a possible applicant in longtime former assistant Turner Gill. Gill could not be reached on Tuesday.

Lee Fobbs, a finalist to replace Eddie Robinson in 1998 when Williams was hired, also confirmed on Tuesday that he has applied. But he has also not been contacted about an interview.

"I haven't talked to anyone as of yet," Fobbs said by phone during a recruiting trip for Texas A&M, where he is running backs coach. "I don't know what's going on."

Fobbs might also stay at Texas A&M. The school has announced that a contract extension for Aggies head coach Dennis Francione and his assistants is in the works, and could be completed as early as the end of the month.

Meanwhile, former GSU assistant Dennis "Dirt" Winston - whose name was among the first mentioned by fans as a possible applicant - has emerged as a finalist in the Tennessee State University search for a head coach.

"You make decisions based on who wants you," said Winston, who coached Toledo's defensive line in a 30-10 loss to Connecticut in last month's Motor City Bowl. "Tennessee State is a job similar to Grambling. They are also looking for a high-profile coach."

Several men have already applied for the head coaching job at Grambling State:
· Melvin Spears: Current interim coach at GSU.
·L.C. Cole: Former head coach at Alabama State, now assistant at Concordia Univ. (Minn.).
· Lee Fobbs: Running backs coach at Texas A&M; former LSU assistant.
Other possibles candidates: Turner Gill (former Nebraska assistant), Dennis Winston (defensive line coach at Toledo), Albert Lewis (assistant with San Diego Chargers) and Anthony Jones (Alabama A&M coach).

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National spotlight shines on GSU job

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State's search for a head coach has already attracted its share of attention - from interested alumni to football Web sites.

Nebraska assistant Turner Gill was mentioned as a possible applicant in a Wednesday update on, an Internet forum frequented by college coaches.

"I'm just now hearing about it," said Gill, who has already interviewed for the New Mexico State job.

He's never been a coordinator, but served as Nebraska's assistant head coach in 2003. Gill announced his resignation after 13 years with the Huskers earlier this month, saying he wanted to pursue head coaching positions full time.

"In praying about it, if they (GSU) were interested in me, I would be interested in them," said Gill, a former All-Big Eight quarterback at Nebraska. "But right now I am putting my full energy into getting the job at New Mexico State. I'm waiting to hear back from them."

Gill has been contacted about jobs over the years by programs as diverse as UCLA, the Miami Dolphins and the Green Bay Packers. He interviewed for the Missouri head coaching vacancy in 2000. Two years before that, Gill turned down coach Bob Stoops' offer to become the Oklahoma offensive coordinator.

Meanwhile, a group of ex-athletes has met with GSU president Horace Judson to encourage him to select a Grambling State graduate as the next head coach, if interim coach Melvin Spears is not retained. They recommended Lee Fobbs, a former All-American under Eddie Robinson who is now an assistant at Texas A&M.

Spears finished his interim tenure at 6-5, posting GSU's 51st non-losing season since 1945 - but only with a win in the finale over Southern.

Another GSU alum says this flurry of early attention, coupled with scrutiny over the selection process, is to be expected.

"I do think it's a tough position for a coach," said Kaycee Doyle Jr., a 1977 graduate. "But that just comes with the territory. As a GSU alum, we've grown accustomed to being at center stage more often than not. So, you live and die by the same hand. The bar is high and the expectations are great; that will never change at Grambling. No one is immune from scrutiny because of past achievements, as evidenced by the situation (late in the career of) Eddie Robinson. Consequently, losing seasons are not an option and flirting with mediocrity has an imminent outcome."

Judson posted the job last week, and said he intends to name a permanent replacement by mid-January.

"The thing the Grambling coach has to do is come in and have a presence," said former GSU assistant Dennis "Dirt" Winston, one of the first names mentioned as a possible applicant. "Grambling is a university that needs national attention, because it has always had that."

Winston said he has not applied for the Tigers' top spot - and he is now one of five finalists for the Tennessee State football coaching vacancy.

Winston - in his fourth season at Toledo, and second as the defensive line coach - earned his master's degree in sports administration from GSU in 1994. His daughter, Bianca Turquoise Winston, is also a senior at Grambling.

"I'm working for a very good coach here, but the one thing about (the Grambling job) is it gets me back home," said Winston - who is preparing for Toledo's upcoming meeting with Connecticut in the Motor City Bowl on Monday. This will be Toledo's third appearance in the Detroit, Mich., game in the last four seasons.

"Our offense is wide open, similar to Grambling's," said Winston. "If it did get that job, the thing I would bring is a new defensive mindset. I'm a defensive guy; that's what I know. You already have a good football team, but then people would fear you. They would know they can't hold on to the football long."

Winston played linebacker at the University of Arkansas from 1973-76, and was selected to the Razorbacks' All-Century Team in 1994. He was then selected by Pittsburgh in the fifth round of the 1977 NFL draft, and appeared in Super Bowl victories in 1978 and 1979.

Winston also played three seasons with the New Orleans Saints from 1982-84, and has had previous coaching stints at Arkansas (1997-98), Norfolk State (1994-95) and Arkansas State (1989-91). That experience is coupled with two stops as an assistant under Eddie Robinson in 1992-94 and then 1995-97.

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GSU search still ongoing; Nebraska's Gill official applicant

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - New Grambling State athletics director Willie Jeffries could start interviewing candidates for head coach as early as next week. But other business called school leaders away on Friday.

GSU president Horace Judson was in Baton Rouge for a regularly scheduled meeting of the University of Louisiana System Board - where several matters were under consideration, including a student-housing plan.

Interim coach Melvin Spears, who returned on Friday from a recruiting trip to Texas, has not yet heard from Jeffries or Judson about an interview, he said.

"I have just been going about the job they've hired me to do - build this program," said Spears, whose contract actually expired at the end of 2004. "That's all I can do."

The News-Star has confirmed that former longtime Nebraska assistant Turner Gill has applied by fax, though his credentials don't appear to match the school's stated job requirements.

The GSU position was posted on Dec. 14, and specifically mentions the need for "significant experience in athletic program management, at or above the level of coordinator."

Perhaps the last tie to the Tom Osborne era at Nebraska, Gill was an assistant head coach under Frank Solich, but has never run an offense or defense. He resigned in December after 25 seasons as a Huskers player or coach to pursue a head coaching position.

"I'm still interested," Gill said, when asked about the job at Grambling State. "But I don't wish to comment any further at this time."

Former GSU All-American Lee Fobbs - now running backs coach at Texas A&M - has also applied. A 29-year veteran, Fobbs has been a position coach on both sides of the ball over the years at Alabama, Baylor, Minnesota, Southern Miss, LSU, Tulane and Louisiana-Monroe.

His most pertinent experience came at the high school level: Fobbs was head coach and athletics director at Carroll, after serving as offensive coordinator at Wossman.

"I have been around some great minds and some guys that have been very, very successful," said Fobbs, a Monroe native. "I have been blessed to be a part of these things. All of those lessons have made me better."

L.C. Cole, who built a successful program at Alabama State, is another applicant. ASU has advanced to two consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championship games since Cole left as head coach, winning once.

"If you look at Alabama State, there was a gold mine for the next coach," said Cole, now defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Division II Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn. "It would be very interesting to face my old school. I would take a great pleasure in getting the opportunity."

Cole was dismissed by ASU officials but was eventually cleared of several alleged NCAA violations.

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GSU to make it permanent with Spears

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State University will name interim coach Melvin Spears as the permanent replacement for Doug Williams at an 8 a.m. news conference today on campus.

"I'm humbled by the opportunity," said Spears, who served on Williams' staff as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. "Just to be able to coach at such a historically significant institution is an honor in itself. To be head coach, well, it's something even more special."

Williams resigned in February after six seasons as head coach at GSU to take a job as a personnel executive with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Terms of Spears' contract have yet to be finalized, he said.

Spears finished 6-5 over the course of an injury-marred interim season, but finished with a flourish - beating in-state rival Southern in the nationally televised Bayou Classic.

"I think everyone is excited," said Carroll High product Brandon Landers, who took over for the injured Bruce Eugene and earned conference freshman of the year honors. "He deserves a chance to see this thing through."

Spears was one of three finalists interviewed since Friday by a four-person committee headed by new GSU president Horace Judson.

The other finalists were Texas A&M running backs coach Lee Fobbs, a Monroe native who was an All-American under former GSU coach Eddie Robinson; and Alabama A&M head coach Anthony Jones, who played for and later coached with GSU athletics director Willie Jeffries at Wichita State and South Carolina State respectively.

Other applicants included Jerry Glanville, a former coach at the NFL's Houston and Atlanta franchises; Lucious Selmon, an All-American at Oklahoma in the early 1970s; and Ramon Flanigan, offensive coordinator at North Texas.

"There were some impressive candidates," Spears said. "I feel blessed to be able to carry on the legacy."

After Jones withdrew Tuesday night, Spears met again with GSU officials on Wednesday afternoon. The original interviewing committee included Judson and Jeffries, along with Robert Dixon, GSU's vice president of academic affairs; and Joyce Montgomery, the faculty athletic representative.

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Second bid just as close for Fobbs

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Former Grambling State All-American Lee Fobbs, now a running backs coach at Texas A&M, has apparently finished second for his alma mater's head coaching position again.

GSU is expected to name interim head coach Melvin Spears as the permanent replacement for Doug Williams at an 8 a.m. news conference on campus today. Fobbs was runner-up to Williams in the 1997 search to replace former GSU coach Eddie Robinson, a mentor to both.

Former athletics director Albert Dennis III also contacted Fobbs before GSU decided to grant an interim season to Spears after Williams' sudden resignation last February.

"I thought the interview went well," said Fobbs, who was leaving for a regularly scheduled recruiting trip on Wednesday night for the Aggies. "But they have not contacted me again."

The Monroe native has developed a close working relationship recently with head coach Dennis Franchione, who kept him on staff after leaving Alabama for A&M. They coached the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl last season, Texas A&M's first New Year's Day game in six years.

As a collegiate football player at Grambling State from 1968-72, Fobbs earned all-conference and All-America honors as a senior under legendary coach Eddie Robinson. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills, and went on to play professionally in the Canadian and World football leagues.

A 29-year veteran in the coaching ranks, Fobbs has also had three local stops. He coached the defensive line at Louisiana-Monroe, was head coach at his alma mater Carroll High School and offensive coordinator at Wossman High.

While Fobbs was at Alabama, the offense ranked second in the SEC in 2002, and led the conference in rushing in 2001. The Crimson Tide advanced to the 2001 Independence Bowl and posted the best record in the SEC West in 2002 with Fobbs on staff.

GSU's coaching search
Here are a few previously unconfirmed applicants from the approximately 30 who sought the GSU head coach position:

· Ramon Flanigan, offensive coordinator at North Texas. While he is the youngest offensive coordinator in Division I-A, the Mean Green has reached the New Orleans Bowl for four consecutive seasons.

· Jerry Glanville, a football analyst for CBS and HBO who previously coached both the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Oilers - where he led the former NFL franchise to the playoffs for three consecutive years.

· Harold Johnson, who was fired at Hampton University in early December after two consecutive 2-8 seasons.

· Lucious Selmon, a two-time All American at Oklahoma who finished seventh in the Heisman voting in 1973. Selmon served as an assistant coach for the Sooners from 1976 to 1994.

The News-Star also previously confirmed applications by finalists Lee Fobbs, a running backs coach at Texas A&M; and Alabama A&M head coach Anthony Jones; as well as former Alabama State coach L.C. Cole, Toledo linebackers coach Dennis Winston and longtime Nebraska assistant Turner Gill.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Remembering: 'Grambling's White Tiger'

TV spotlight was on change
Issue of integration in college football hit the small screen 25 years ago with 'Grambling's White Tiger'

September 24, 2006

By Nick Deriso
Twenty-five years ago, a film crew descended on the town of Grambling to retell a turning-point moment in the history of its football team.

Coach Eddie Robinson's decision to integrate his then-all black college football team — and a book detailing the transition — had come in the turbulence of the late 1960s.

But the story had always struck former Olympian Bruce Jenner as one that would connect with a mainstream audience — and, more than a decade later, Jenner turned it into his first movie project.

"This was a true story of integration," Jenner said, "but it was going in the opposite direction."

Standing at the center of the book — "My Little Brother is Coming Tomorrow" by Bruce Behrenberg — and subsequent film was Jim Gregory. He became known forever by the 1981 TV movie's title: "Grambling's White Tiger."

"The experience itself was something that I would never want to do away with," said Gregory, who has since worked for 30 years as a teacher and coach at California's Reedley High. "It was a great experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat."

Parts of it, anyway.

Gregory's memories of his time at Grambling — he warmly describes the towering leadership of Robinson, and an enduring friendship with teammates like Monroe's Charles "Tank" Smith — have been forever changed by the media maelstrom that surrounded his presence.

He unwittingly contributed to that whirlwind when, as youngster, he signed the deal that led to Behrenberg's book.

But in the end, Gregory says that publication and the subsequent, more widely seen film stand as testament to the times more so than to his own story.

"It's not my life," Gregory likes to say. "It was only a semester."


Robinson had met Gregory when he spoke at the high schooler's football banquet.

Two of Cocoran High's coaches had Grambling connections: Its head coach played for Robinson and an assistant, Ed Stevens (pictured above), later joined his staff.

Robinson, who is in failing health today, once said the times dictated his decision to integrate the team. He insisted that Grambling's players would have to live their lives around white people, and that segregation in school only prolonged that acclimation process.

In the end, he felt that no other player could have handled the adversity as well as Gregory did.

"I knew that I had learned something from 'Greg,' and he from us," Robinson said. "We all taught others some things in the process."

Gregory didn't see much playing time, beginning his career as a freshman on a team led by James "Shack" Harris and ending it behind Matt Reed, another Monroe native. But Robinson always stressed that football was just one small part of the journey.

"Eddie was looking for someone who would make it through and graduate; that was one of Eddie's goals all along — whether you became a star player or not," Gregory said. "He wanted us to go out into society and contribute."

Though he says he endured his share of curious looks as the only white person on the team, Gregory said he was greeted on campus with open arms.

"That was one thing about Eddie Robinson, he was going to make sure that anybody who came here was going to be treated equally," said Douglas Porter, then the offensive coordinator. "That was almost like a religion. It was going to be the same for everybody."

Players like Harris, then fighting to become the first black quarterback to be drafted at his true position, saw in Gregory a kindred spirit.

"It took a unique guy to go through that," said Harris, now an NFL personnel executive. "He had to accept some critical circumstances. But I think during that time, it may have been easier for Jim than it was to do it in the reverse."

Gregory, for his part, was introduced to a whole new world of Southern hospitality, soul food surprises and funky good times.

"I was put into the dorm with guys like James Harris and Charlie Joiner, and they had a lot of questions," Gregory said. "I can remember guys who didn't like me, because they had never been around a white guy before. Those people became some of my better friends as time went on."


The novelty of the situation soon drew nationwide attention. Grambling, becoming known as the cradle of the pros, suddenly had a sideshow.

"There was too much hype surrounding it," Gregory said. "It (the color barrier) was being broken, whether I did it or not. I just wanted to play football."

Still, Gregory signed the book deal that eventually became the basis for Jenner's movie while he was still enrolled at Grambling.

"I was a young kid and we jumped into it," Gregory said. "There were times I wished it had never come about. I was having trouble with the fact that I was stabbing my buddies in the back, as the white kid getting all the notoriety. It was really a tough time."

Grambling, through the brilliance of Robinson and sports information director Collie J. Nicholson, was coming into its own as a national presence.

The founding of the Urban League Classic, played at a sold-out Yankee Stadium in 1968, coincided with Gregory's arrival. Hundreds of Grambling products were flooding into the NFL.

Yet a cluster of reporters greeted the white quarterback at every GSU stop — cruelly ironic to the others in that he wasn't a starter.

"They were always trying to pull things from you that didn't have anything to do with what was going on, or put me at a higher standing than I was," Gregory said. "I was a freshman, after all. I was only traveling with the team because I could kick."

Through it all, Porter said Gregory deftly avoided becoming a disruptive force.

"We used to go a lot of places and reporters would try to draw him into making a remark about not getting a chance to play," Porter said. "He wouldn't do it. He never let them make that an issue."

Gregory earned his teammates' respect with that fair-minded attitude — not to mention gutty practice-yard play, even if that never transferred to all-conference stats.

"Jim Gregory was a real tough competitor," Harris said. "He just didn't have the ability that (former Grambling passers) Frank Holmes and Matthew Reed had. He won over some guys because when he practiced on the freshman team, he competed and took his hits."

He also learned a lot in those times of dramatic change in America.

Gregory said a scene from "Grambling's White Tiger" where a black co-ed is reluctant to go on a shopping trip with him accurately depicts the struggles between races at the time.

"Just my walking downtown in Ruston or Monroe with 'Tank,' we'd get dirty looks," Gregory said. "There were some tough times, but we hung through it. Over the five years I was there, I saw great change. There were still people who didn't like each other, but the overall relationship had become a lot better."


While Gregory was toiling away in graduate school when work on Jenner's film began, his teammates and coach had become national figures.

Robinson was within sight of Paul "Bear" Bryant's once-thought unassailable all-time record for wins. Harris and Joiner were playing for the San Diego Chargers, while Smith was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles' roster.

So, the project — boosted, too, perhaps Jenner's involvement — drew some notable talents.

Harry Belafonte made his television acting debut as a tribute to his regard for Robinson. Harris would be played by Dennis Haysbert, who has since starred as President David Palmer in TV's "24" and in a series of Allstate commercials.

Smith was portrayed by LeVar Burton, best known for the ground-breaking miniseries "Roots" and later for his work on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

The film was directed by Georg Stanford Brown, who worked on TV's "Hill Street Blues" and won an Emmy for an episode of "Cagney and Lacey."

Yet, despite getting largely good notices for "Grambling's White Tiger" — the only quibble was, in fact, with the star's sometimes-wooden delivery as Gregory — Jenner's fledgling production company didn't take off.

He has worked on various television and movie projects since, but devotes most of his time now to a corporate coaching company that works on staff development, leadership programs and crafting sales programs.

"It was certainly the high point of my acting career," Jenner said. "It was very well received and it was an important movie, I thought."

As time passed, Gregory's perspective on the book and the movie subtly changed.

He eventually integrated them into his classroom curriculum. Both are on file in his school library.

"It's a great history lesson on segregation and desegregation," he said. "I eventually had a better feeling about the movie, because I'd come to think of it as a learning tool."

Seeing his life story through the eyes of successive generations of young people continues to teach Gregory new things about those times.

"Whether I like it or not, my coming to Grambling had an effect on society," Gregory said. "As I finished up, other schools were just starting to beginning to integrate. We were part of something."

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Lights, camera, Grambling!
September 24, 2006

By Nick Deriso
Bruce Jenner's 1981 film stands as historical artifact not just because of its dramatic portrayal of the integration of Eddie Robinson's football team but also because it was shot on location in Grambling.

Jenner and his crew spent a month on campus that summer shooting "Grambling's White Tiger," using members of the current GSU football team as extras to portray events from 12 years before.

"We had to do it at Grambling, just because it was such a unique place and had such a rich history," said Jenner. "To give the storyline any credibility, it had to be done there."

Of course, that meant the whole town got to share in the experience.

Jenner, a former Olympic decathlon champion, shot a football game actually held in Marshall, Texas, against Wiley College at GSU's old Memorial Stadium.

As always, locals filled the background for crowd shots.

"They painted the press box on the visitors side purple and white," said Grambling alum Kenn Rashad, then a 13-year-old. "At the top of that press box was a sign that read 'Wylie College.' The movie producers misspelled the name of the school."

Pretty soon, everyone was angling for their big Hollywood moment.

"I begged the crew a number of times to get me into the movie," said John Barabin, who grew up in Baton Rouge but used to spend summers in Grambling with relatives. "They finally obliged by having me run down Grambling's Main Street sidewalk and do a double take at Bruce Jenner. I hung out with stars, ate from their catering truck — and, best of all, I received a paycheck for it!"

The television film originally aired Oct. 4, 1981, and has been rerun countless times since. Highlights include now-poignant glimpses into former coach Eddie Robinson's office and inside the Memorial Stadium locker rooms — neither of which are still used by the GSU football team.

There was at least one interruption of filming, after a student government representative objected to something in the script. But Jenner said even that turned into a moment of discovery.

"They thought it put the school in a bad light," Jenner said. "Coach Robinson said: 'Let's meet with the students and hear what they have to say, but let the process play out. Let them learn from the experience.' We made some minor changes, and kept going."