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The top of the list looks like this:
Those are the career victory totals of the winningest college football coaches. No one else is even close to the top four. No. 5 is Woody Hayes, with 238. Three things about that list: First, the top three coaches are legends; second, they're white; third, they're deceased. Eddie Robinson, 64, athletic director and coach at Grambling State in Grambling, La. is black, largely unheralded and going strong. When he wins 19 more games to become the winningest college coach ever, he'll set a record that probably will never be matched. And some people aren't going to like it.
Says Penn State's Joe Paterno, 56, whose 162 victories make him the sixth-winningest active coach, "There will always be people who say Eddie's record isn't the real thing. But a win's a win. I don't care what league you're in. Anybody who resents his moment of glory would be an awfully small person."
The NCAA won't resent it. Over the years Grambling has been classified as a Small College, Division II and Major College team. Currently it's in Division I-AA and is a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. "If he gets to 324, we'll consider him the winningest college football coach of all time, regardless of divisions, pure and simple," says NCAA Associate Director of Statistics Steve Boda.
Robinson remains in awe of the men he still trails. He was introduced to Stagg at a coaches' convention in 1956 and was so excited he couldn't speak. Robinson isn't sure whether he ever met Warner, who died in 1954, but he knows that when he began his career at Grambling in 1941 he used Warner's famous double-wing offense. As for Bryant, well, Robinson almost genuflects when the Bear's name comes up. "If Coach Bryant had continued, the only way I could have caught him was if he lost a lot," says Robinson. "And I wouldn't have been able to stand that. I used to call him Lord."
Robinson drives slowly through the Grambling campus, situated 60 miles southeast of Shreveport in hilly, north-central Louisiana. The school, which has an enrollment of 4,100, isn't pretty. The grass is worn away in places, and no lush gardens adorn the grounds. The architecture consists mainly of long, two-story, red-brick buildings and high-rise dorms. The sense one gets is of things thrown up hurriedly with little money for unimportant people. Robinson, though, has just come from Grambling's beautiful new $7.5 million, 22,000-seat stadium. It was built with state funds in homage to his success. Ten thousand seats will be added when more money is available. "Everybody is being so nice to me," he says. "People are giving me honorary days, honorary doctorates. They gave me this car [a 1983 Bonneville]. I'm afraid they're going to take the fire out of me. I want somebody to slap me and say, 'Go to hell!' "
Robinson is a handsome man who has perfect teeth, warm eyes and a fondness for ties and three-piece suits. He's friendly and accommodating—journalists and camera crews love him—but he's as firm as an oak inside. You don't average 7.6 wins a season for 40 years any other way. "I've seen that glint in Eddie's eye," says Alcorn State Coach Marino Casern. "He's got that old feeling that you kill a gnat with a sledgehammer."
When Robinson arrived at Grambling in 1941, he was 22 and the school was called the Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute. Founded in 1901, it had originally been named the Colored Industrial and Agricultural School. Enrollment in '41 was 320, and the campus consisted of only eight buildings. Robinson gestures at the Charles P. Adams classroom building. "There was a field there," he says. "The library over there is where the football field was. There weren't any bleachers—whoever came to games stood up—but that's where Tank Younger played."
Younger, a devastating fullback, became the first player from a black college to perform in the NFL, signing with the Los Angeles Rams in 1949. Since that breakthrough some 180 Grambling players have been invited to pro camps. Nine former Tigers are now playing in the NFL, and seven more are in the USFL.