In his 57 years at Grambling, including 45 winning seasons, Eddie Robinson coached only two teams, in 1942 and '55, to a perfect record. In his fourth year as Robinson's successor, Doug Williams, the former Washington Redskins quarterback who was MVP of the 1988 Super Bowl, has a good chance of leading the Tigers to their third undefeated season since 1941. Grambling was 7-0 after last Saturday's 43-3 victory over Texas Southern and is expected to be favored over the three teams remaining on the Tigers' schedule ( Alabama State, Nicholls State and Southern).
"Last year we were good; this year we're putting it all together," says senior wideout Levi Washington, who has played on Williams-coached teams that went 5-6 in 1998, 7-4 in '99 and 10-2 in 2000, when the Tigers won their first outright SWAC title since 1989. "The spirit of Grambling is where it was in the early days of Coach Rob."
When Williams left Division II Morehouse College in Atlanta after one year to replace the winningest coach in the history of college football, he inherited a 3-8 team whose last home game under Robinson was witnessed by 4,037 fans. Williams set about rebuilding the Tigers—cutting more than two dozen players, almost all of them walk-ons, and bringing in 26 new ones in the eight months before his first game—and replacing Robinson's creaky wing T with a multiple-set offense. To bulk up the defense and reduce injuries, Williams intensified the weight program, which had been conducted in the stadium's lower level for three decades before a new field house opened in 1999. The plan seems to be working: Only one Grambling starter has been sidelined by injury for one or more games this season.
The NFL is taking note. "Scouts from every team have been through here at least once this year to watch tape," says Williams, whose top receiver from last season, Scotty Anderson, became the Tigers' first NFL draft pick in seven years when the Detroit Lions chose him in the fifth round. Just as important, the fans are back; 22,736 showed up for Saturday's game at Robinson Stadium.
Trouble is, even though the Tigers entered last weekend ranked No. 6 in the division, they won't test their mettle in the playoffs, choosing instead to close the regular season with their annual grudge match against Southern in the SuperDome, which draws more than 60,000 fans. "For several years the playoffs have overlapped with the Bayou Classic, which produces upward of $700,000 for us, much more than we would make playing four playoff games," says athletic director Al Dennis. "We're not willing to tinker with that."
The more pressing issue for Grambling is, How long can it keep Williams around? The school offered him a three-year contract extension in August, but at a lower figure than he had proposed last January. He says he plans to meet with the university's acting president, Neari Warner, later in the season to discuss the possibility of getting more money as well as bonuses for his assistants. "I've received a couple of informal calls from other teams, and I'm sure I'll get offers before the year is over," says Williams. " Grambling is where my heart is, but coaching is a business. Still, I'm in no rush to accept anything. I'm in the middle of a great season."