Monday, July 21, 2008

Grambling greats: College Hall of Famer Doug Porter

College Hall of Fame beckons Grambling resident Douglas Porter
May 7, 2008

By Nick Deriso
Grambling resident Douglas Porter, who had a five-decade long career in coaching and athletic administration, will be inducted into the College Hall of Fame.

The National Football Foundation is expected to announce the 2008 class today. Porter appeared on the lower-classification ballot.

A former assistant at Grambling State under Eddie Robinson, Porter was a head coach at former Division I-AA programs Mississippi Valley (from 1961-65) and Howard University (from 1974-78) and finally at Division II Fort Valley State (from 1979-94). He was a longtime administrator at Fort Valley, as well.

Porter’s helped establish a Valley program that had not had a winning season in five years before his first in 1963, and has only matched his three in a row (through 1965) two other times — once in the 1950s, and another under Archie Cooley beginning in 1983. His .550 winning percentage has only been bested once among MVSU coaches who stayed five or more years.

He then coached for nine seasons under Robinson, running an offense that featured future Pro Football Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner and quarterbacks James “Shack” Harris and Doug Williams, later a Super Bowl MVP.

Every Grambling senior was drafted by the NFL in 1969. In 1971, 43 GSU players were in pro football camps.

“Even when I got to Fort Valley, the lead story was always that I was formerly an assistant under Coach Eddie Robinson,” Porter said recently. “That’s what they would start with. That gave you credibility, the fact that you had worked with Coach Rob.”

Porter, who won 61 percent of the games he coached, was 30-21-2 in five seasons at Howard — part of a career record of 166 victories.

At Fort Valley, a Division II program in Georgia, Porter won six conference championships and made two NCAA playoff appearances on his way to seven league coach of the year honors.

Porter retired back to Grambling in 1997, where he became a trusted advisor to both former GSU coaches Doug Williams and Melvin Spears and current coach Rod Broadway. He has also been a steady presence in the efforts to establish a museum in Robinson’s honor.

Porter has already been inducted into the Mississippi Valley State Hall of Fame.

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OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Legendary Grambling assistant built Hall of Fame resume as a head coach too
May 12, 2008

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Until this week, Douglas Porter was most often referred to as a former assistant under Grambling State’s mythical Eddie Robinson.

Porter stood, without complaint, inside the dark outline of that coaching legend’s shadow — despite having assembled a terrific, if seldom decorated, career of his own.

“That couldn’t have been easy with a person of his skill,” said James “Shack” Harris, Porter’s first quarterbacking protégé at GSU. “He was able to do it without ego, and to do it well.”

Porter, in fact, had been a part of a larger storyline in shaping successful programs, even in the most trying of situations. He had won nearly 170 games during a trio of head coaching stints at Mississippi Valley State, Howard and Fort Valley State — a resume built far from the red clay hills of Grambling.

Recognition for those efforts came on Wednesday when Porter was announced as part of the College Hall of Fame’s 2008 divisional class for lower-classification coaches and players.

“He has never been in the limelight,” said Doug Williams, who later received mentoring from Porter at Grambling as a redshirt freshman passer. “This is one time when he gets his 15 minutes. He deserves it.”

Nothing could stop Porter’s Hall of Fame journey: Not the crushing disparities found at rural black schools like Mississippi Valley State and Grambling, the benign neglect rampant even at metropolitan institutions like Howard, the forgotten backwaters of Division II ball at Fort Valley, or even a shocking moment when his body betrayed him.

Porter, so happy to be taking over a program, didn’t ask too many questions upon assuming his first head coaching job at Valley.

Once he got to Itta Bena, though, the gravity of the situation became apparent.

“Hadn’t beaten Jackson, hadn’t beaten Alcorn — in ages,” Porter said, sizing up Mississippi Valley State’s performance against key league foes. “Two years before, Grambling had beaten us 93 to nothing.”

He set about building a foundation of pride. That would require more than scoring 94 points on a Saturday afternoon.

“It took us a couple of years,” Porter said. “We played a lot of freshmen, played a lot of young people. But then, it began to pay off for us.”

Though Valley had not had a winning season in five years before Porter’s first in 1963, he reeled off three in a row through 1965 — something that has only been matched in Itta Bena on two other occasions.

Grambling, it’s no surprise, was a measuring stick. That time when Robinson’s squad had nearly hung a Benjamin on the Delta Devils stuck with Porter.

He finally began to gain on Valley’s cross-conference rivals and, in the process, to earn Eddie Robinson’s respect.

Porter had gotten blown out by Grambling during their first trio of meetings — and by a combined score of 149-12. But Porter was gaining, losing by an average of about two touchdowns over the last three games

“We came down in 1965, we played in Grambling —- and we led at halftime,” Porter said. “We lost 34-20, but we had been ahead 14-7. That was a measure of where we had come. We had gotten to the point where we could play anybody on our schedule. That was what I had hoped to do when I came there.”

A year later, he was running Robinson’s offense.

Porter said the chance to work alongside an American legend at Grambling — and to mentor future Louisiana Sports Hall of Famers like Harris and Frank Lewis — made what amounted to a demotion to offensive coordinator an attractive offer.

“He was very effective in a variety of situations,” Harris said. “He was someone who really knew the game. Coach Porter was a leader in his own right. You respected him.”

Grambling won six SWAC titles in the eight years Porter served under Robinson — three of them with Harris, who compiled a 31-9-1 record at Grambling.

That period of profound success, however, was leavened by the emerging reality that Robinson was becoming professionally and personally entwined in Grambling.
This relationship, already nearly 35 seasons old, was set for life.

Porter would have to move on in order to get an opportunity to run a program. After considering an offer from Florida A&M, he left in 1974 for the Washington, D.C.-based historically black college program Howard.

“I wanted to be a head coach,” he said. “I saw that, after a few years here, there was not going to be a chance for that.

“Change,” Porter added, laughing now, “wasn’t coming.”

Porter and Robinson, in fact, both would work for another 24 seasons, but while Porter moved from Howard to Fort Valley in coaching and administrative positions, his old boss never left the helm at GSU.

Porter said he soon learned that the administration at Howard didn’t have the same commitment to athletics that he had become used to at Grambling under Robinson and then-president R.W.E. Jones.

Porter would finish with a winning record, but he’s always been left with the sense that he could have done better than his 30-21-2 mark over five seasons in D.C.

“I thought at that time that the best move for me and my future in football was Howard,” Porter said. “It didn’t turn out to be that way.”

Just over the horizon, however, was Fort Valley, where Porter would coach — save for one year — from 1979-97, and serve as athletics director from 1981-97.

“In all things that I have been involved with — people might think this is a little sanctimonious — I felt that the Lord has a way of directing you to go certain places and do certain things,” Porter said. “I was glad to get out of that situation.”

The then-current athletics director at Fort Valley was one of Porter’s college coaches. The school president had a child who attended Grambling during Porter’s tenure there.

And middle Georgia residents, like those in rural north Louisiana, boast a deep-seated love affair with football.

“There weren’t the same resources they had at Grambling, but the commitment to support the program was just as great,” Porter said.

He’d capture seven Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships between 1980-92, including four in a row from 1982-85.

“It definitely didn’t surprise me that he was able to leave and do well,” said Harris, now a top front-office executive in the NFL. “Some people are destined for success; he was one of those kinds of people.”

Five years after taking over, Fort Valley was winning its league title with both the offensive and defensive players of the year.

But Porter, after so long on the sidelines, was beginning to fray. An in-season heart attack during his seventh campaign at Fort Valley sent him into spiraling introspection.

Fort Valley has begun that impressive string of championships in the 1980s running an offense that bore little resemblance to the attack associated with Robinson’s Grambling teams.

Recruiting into a Division II program had something to do with it.

“I didn’t have the offensive linemen that it would take to run the Wing T,” Porter said. “You need guys who have a lot of athletic ability to be successful. It was easier for us to find kids we could teach to pass block and drive block.”

By ‘85, Fort Valley had developed a powerful defense to match that offensive power, too, leading the lower classification in several categories. Opponents were often held under a touchdown, and to minus-yards rushing.

But these low-scoring matches — coupled with newly founded, Grambling-like expectations of winning — took their toll, creating a pressure-cooker environment.
Fort Valley, ranked No. 2, came into a game against No. 1 Central State and fell 14-7.

A coach known for his easy-going nature — in fact, some at Fort Valley had once criticized him for not being emotional enough — was taking all of this personally.
Too personally.

“It was a hard, hard loss,” Porter said. “We were going into our last two games with just one loss. To maintain that puts you under a tremendous amount of pressure that you don’t really realize.”

He ended up flat on his back in a hospital room, with doctors trying to get his heart fixed.

Porter kept asking about the scores, tried to keep his head in the game.

But the doctors recommended a year off.

The time away refocused Porter on what was important. He still loved football, but in a different way. He learned to let things go.

“At the end of that, I was in the best shape I have been in, other than when I was in the Army,” Porter said. “But I wanted to coach. Coaching is all I have ever really wanted to do.”

He would win more titles at Fort Valley, would serve as chairman of the Division II Football Committee and as president of the National Athletic Steering Committee and, after retiring, would play a key advisory role in smoothing the transition for Robinson successor Doug Williams at Grambling.

“Fort Valley was a good fit for me,” Porter said. “We found that they had a strong group of followers, and they had established a good winning tradition. As with Grambling, I was happy to be a part of that.”

Even if it always seemed to come second on his resume. Until Wednesday, when the College Hall of Fame called.

“It’s one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed,” said Williams, himself a 2001 inductee. “Nobody deserves to be rewarded more than Coach Porter.”

Porter attended the Hall of Fame ceremonies honoring Williams seven years ago, and Williams will join a burgeoning list of former students who will return the favor this summer. Porter said several Fort Valley players are organizing a group trip to South Bend, as well.

“Most people don’t know how special a coach he is,” said Harris, a Monroe native. “He coached at small schools, and that sometime means you get overlooked, but he did an outstanding job with those programs. He’s well deserving. What a great football mind.”

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For Grambling’s Porter, Hall of Fame career was about the kids
July 19, 2008

By Nick Deriso
For Doug Porter, today will be the capstone on a career spent working with young people.

Of course, the new College Football Hall of Famer won some games along the way, too.

But that was never the point for Porter, a Grambling resident.

"To be able to touch young people," Porter said, "to get them to believe in something, that always meant so much."

The 79-year old earned membership in the College Hall’s 2008 divisional class after a 42-year career, which included 26 seasons as head coach at three small colleges. Porter also served eight seasons as an offensive coach during the legendary tenure of Grambling’s Eddie Robinson, and was athletics director at Fort Valley from 1981-97.

"He was a top football mind, someone who really knew the game," said one of Grambling’s passers at the time, James "Shack" Harris —- now a general manager with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. "Coach Porter is a leader in his right."

The National Football Foundation considers players and coaches from the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA), Divisions II, III, and the NAIA National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for induction in the College Hall of Fame’s divisional classes.

Porter is joined in 2008 by W.C. Gorden, who coached at Grambling’s conference foe Jackson State from 1976-91.

Four players are also to be inducted in ceremonies held today at South Bend, Ill.: Quarterback Jim Ballard (Mount Union, 1991-93); linebacker Ronald McKinnon (North Alabama, 1992-95), defensive end John Randle (Texas A&M-Kingsville, 1988-89) and halfback Brad Rowland (McMurry College, 1947-50).

Porter, who won 61 percent of the games he coached, recorded 166 career victories —- the bulk of them at Fort Valley.

There, Porter earned seven Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships between 1980-92, including four consecutive crowns from 1982-85. He advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinals in 1983 — when his team boasted the league’s offensive and defensive players of the year in Kelvin Parker and Taqwan Taylor, respectively — and to the quarterfinals in ‘85.

"I have as much respect for Coach Porter as any one I have been around," said Harris, a Monroe native who later played for the NFL’s Bills, Rams and Chargers. "As good a coach as he was, he always played his role in shadows. That couldn’t have been easy for a person of his skill."

Even working at that tiny Georgia Division II program, Porter coached three future NFL Draft picks, including first-rounder Tyrone Poole and Pro Bowl linebacker Greg Lloyd. (He also mentored some Grambling’s top quarterbacks in Harris, Matthew Reed and then Doug Williams, the future Super Bowl MVP.)

"Coach Porter is a special coach in that he would always tell you the honest truth, about football and about life," Harris said. "It sounds simple, but it’s rare. So often a coach will tell you what you want to hear. When you get a chance to work with people like Coach Porter, you become a better person yourself."

Named SIAC coach of the year seven times, Porter earned a lifetime achievement award from the All-American Football Foundation in 1998 and induction in the Mississippi Valley State Hall of Fame in 2006.

"The recognition is overwhelming," Porter said. "But the most important thing to me was to affect the lives of young people. That was satisfying."

Born: Aug. 15, 1929 in Memphis
Personal: Lives in Grambling, with wife Jean
Head coaching career: Mississippi Valley State (1961-65), Howard (1974-78), Fort Valley State (1979-85, 1987-96); also served as an offensive assistant at Grambling (1966-73) under Eddie Robinson, and has been a key advisor to each of his successors.
Career record: 166-107-5, only five losing seasons out of 26

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A SHARED EXPERIENCE: Grambling's duo of Dougs — Porter and Williams — boasts Hall of Fame friendship
July 20, 2008

By Nick Deriso
A familiar face could be found among the crowd.

Doug Porter was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, with former player and protégé Doug Williams in attendance.

The roles had been reversed in 2001, when Williams was named to the hall's divisional class as a player. Seven years later, Porter was recognized in South Bend, Ill., for head coaching work at a trio of lower classification programs.

Porter also served from 1966-73 as an offensive assistant during the career of Grambling State's Eddie Robinson.

There, he met Doug Williams, then a young quarterback. Later, after retirement, Porter returned to become a key mentor when Williams succeeded Robinson as head coach at Grambling.

"It was big for me when Coach Porter showed up for my induction," Williams said. "When I found out that he was going in, I thought that was one of the greatest things. I got a chance to repay Coach by being there for him."

Porter won 61 percent of the games he coached, recording 166 career victories at former Division I-AA programs Mississippi Valley State (1961-65) and Howard (1974-78), then at Division II Fort Valley State (1979-97). He also served as athletics director at Fort Valley from 1981-97.

He might have won more still, had Williams followed Porter to Howard.

Williams certainly wanted to, back then.

"He was frustrated as a red shirt," Porter said. "He was running the scout team, but he felt he was better. He wasn't playing."

Porter, then as now a wise and fair man, knew the steep coaching climb ahead at Howard. But he wasn't willing to pluck Williams out of a more favorable situation.

"It wasn't in Doug's best interest to come," Porter said. "He wouldn't have been surrounded with the kind of people he had with Eddie: He wouldn't have had Dwight Scales; he wouldn't have had Sammy White — and those people were big contributors to his success. Had Williams come to us, he would have been a great quarterback, but throwing it to a group of receivers who made a lot of drops. That wouldn't have helped him."

Williams would win a pair of league championships under Robinson, success that launched him into the race for the Heisman Trophy. Williams then became a first-round NFL draft pick, and eventually earned Super Bowl MVP honors in 1988.

A lasting relationship, built as much on trust as on gridiron concepts, was forged.

Fate brought them back together in 1997, when Porter returned to Grambling upon retirement. Williams was in the midst of launching the difficult post-Robinson era — something nearly unthinkable after his stirring 57-season tenure — and Porter's guiding hand again played a key role Williams' success.

"It was Doug Porter who helped me though the whole transition," Williams said. "He wasn't looking for publicity for what he did. It wasn't hard for me to see that I needed Doug Porter close by me."

Long after retirement, Porter — the son of a coach, Memphis prep legend W.P. Porter — still possessed a keen passion for football.

"We'd sit down every day after practice and I would tell him what I felt," Porter said. "He was very amenable, though sometimes we would disagree. I could accept that, because it was his football team. The only thing I wanted to do was help him be successful."

He was: Williams, with Porter on the sidelines in an advisory role, would win a trio of Southwestern Athletic Conference titles in 2000-02, and was one game away from the championship match in both 1999 and 2003.

They now boast another bond, another shared memory in a lifetime filled with them.

"He had such an impact on my life," Williams said. "He had a lot to do with the success that I had. In my life, Coach Porter has been a Hall of Famer for a long time."

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