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Monday, April 09, 2007

Hubbard won't forget Robinson's impact

Scripts Howard News Service

Rudy Hubbard wasn't sure when, exactly, the conversation took place.

But he'll never forget it did.

It was the last time he spoke with Eddie Robinson, the legendary Grambling State football coach who died Tuesday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

"I had been out of coaching for a few years, and he was trying to talk me back into it _ which was typical of him," Hubbard said from his home in Tallahassee, Fla. "One of the reasons he loved coaching so much was because of the impact he could have on a young man's life. That's why he wanted me to go back to it.

"But as convinced as I was that I needed to leave it alone, he was just as convinced that I needed to get back in."

The two men never would speak again. And Hubbard, who led Florida A&M to the Black College National Championship in 1977 and the inaugural NCAA Division I-AA national championship in 1978 before being fired in 1985 after back-to-back losing seasons, never returned to coaching.

To this day, he has no regrets _ especially after seeing the way Robinson, as beloved a figure as college football has known, was shoved into retirement in 1997.

In his 57 years at Grambling, Robinson's teams won 408 games, 17 Southwest Athletic Conference titles and nine Black College National Championships, and he sent more than 200 players to the NFL.

But when Grambling struggled in the mid-'90s, the face of black college football was told to retire.

"He was forced out," said Hubbard, who became Woody Hayes' first black assistant at Ohio State in 1968 before taking the Florida A&M job in 1974. "Can you believe that? After all he did for Grambling? After all he did for black college football? He meant too much to all of us to go out the way he did. To most people, Coach Robinson WAS black college football.

"But when you're as successful as he was, you raise everyone's expectations. And Coach Robinson got that program to a point where that's all people expected. What they don't realize is that he raised the bar on very limited funding."

Not only did the predominantly black colleges operate with smaller athletic budgets, but, after the South was desegregated in the 1960s, they were forced to compete against the major universities for the best black players.

Black schools still could get top-shelf talent - even into the early 1980s - but it was getting more difficult every year.

"My last few years at Florida A&M, I could see the change," said Hubbard, who will turn 61 later this month. "Even in the late '70s, I was able to get my share of really good players. That team in '78 was loaded. We could've played with a lot of Division I-A teams. We beat Miami in '79. But after that, things started getting tougher. You could see the talent waning.

"From a financial standpoint, we just couldn't keep up. The rich got richer, the poor got worse. Eventually, we were down to getting what was left. Even kids whose parents went to black colleges were choosing the big schools. Now, the black schools don't have a chance."

The Rattlers brought in about $1 million in TV revenues during their championship run in 1978, Hubbard said, but that money was lost to Title IX, which, adopted in 1979, created athletic opportunities for thousands of young women but crippled the football programs at many black colleges.

So the decline of black college football already had begun when Hubbard, only 39 at the time, was fired for not winning as much in the 1980s, despite putting together a 30-5 run from 1977-79.

He had seen enough to see there was no reason to go back.

"As far as black college football goes, the heyday was over," said Hubbard, who now works for a financial services firm. "You think back to what it was, then see what it is now. ... It doesn't even look the look the same. It's gone."

And, now, so is Robinson.

But Hubbard won't forget him _ or their last conversation.

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