I assure you that I have not changed Citizen Brand into a sports blog. But athletics so often provides us with stories, both good and bad, that allow us to mark the passage of time and measure our progress as a society. The passing of Coach Eddie Robinson of Grambling State University is one of those great stories.
Coach Rob, as he was sometimes called, arguably had as much impact as any college coach football has ever seen. Numbers can certainly tell part of his story. He won more games than Bowden, Paterno and Bryant - 408 - and he sent more than 200 players to the National Football League. And over the 56 years he coached, America changed dramatically. As the Washington Post's Michael Wilbon points out:
"Robinson began coaching at a time when he might have to leave campus to retrieve his best players from a cotton field and finished it in 1997, reportedly having been inducted into every hall of fame for which he was eligible."
Coach Robinson is one of those people I wish I could have met just once. He sounded like one of those people you would want at one of those imaginary dinner parties where you invite the eight or ten people you would most like to have dinner with at one time. Wilbon said he was in awe of Coach Rob the first time he met him.
"It was in the early 1980s, maybe even the Georgetown Final Four in New Orleans, and I stepped in an elevator in the Hyatt-Regency adjacent to the Superdome.
Coach Rob was there and it was nearly as overwhelming as the first time I saw Muhammad Ali as an adult. Luckily, Doug Williams was at the bottom of the elevator, and I asked him to make the introduction.
I had the pleasure of being in Coach Rob's company three or four times, one an extended visit, and had no interest in interrupting his stories with questions. He was quoted as saying of coaching, "Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of men and getting them to believe in you."
What was evident in the prime of his career, when he retired in 1997, and now upon reflection on his remarkable life and career is that Eddie Robinson won even more hearts and souls than he did football games."
Eddie Robinson was definitely a citizen brand.