SI Vault
Alexander Wolff
January 30, 1995
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January 30, 1995


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At first glance Robeson would seem not merely a likely candidate for any institution calling itself the College Football Hall of Fame; he would seem to have been an ideal candidate for the first class of inductees in 1951. Robeson, who died in 76 at the age of 77, was a 6' 3", 215-pound two-way end at Rutgers, a two-time All-America described by Walter Camp as "the greatest defensive end who ever trod the gridiron" and by a contemporary, Philadelphia sportswriter Robert W. Maxwell, as "without a doubt, the best football player in the country." He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the valedictorian of the class of '19 at Rutgers, a renowned orator and baritone, and a man who went on to earn a law degree, learn to speak 15 languages and forge a glorious international career as a singer and actor.

But Robeson's résumé carried another line as well: communist sympathizer. Though never a member of the Communist party, Robeson, whose father was a runaway slave, was an outspoken antifascist and a champion of racial equality and socialist causes who remained a supporter of the Soviet Union throughout his life. That was enough to get him blacklisted on Broadway in the 1940s and enough, given the College Football Hall of Fame's vague "good citizenship" requirement, to deny him enshrinement. The foundation's longtime chief, Jimmy McDowell, liked to say that '"the National Football Foundation honors men who honor the game and honor the country" and once responded to a Robeson supporter by writing, "Robeson's citizenship, in the opinion of the Foundation's Awards Committee and Board of Directors, eliminated him from further consideration."

Under the guidance of McDowell's successor. Bob Casciola, and with several spots on the 12-member Honors Court now occupied by electors from a new generation, the foundation appears more inclined to judge nominees strictly on their gridiron prowess. That may be good news for such other inexplicably absent stars as former Alabama quarterback Joe Namath (whose Broadway Joe image may not have suited the old guard); Billy Cannon, the 1959 Heisman-winning halfback from LSU (who 24 years after leaving school served time for his role in a counterfeiting scam); and Harvard drop-kicking sensation Charley Brickley (who was convicted in '28 of illegal stock transactions). For any of them who might someday make it to the Hall—indeed, for all other inductees, past or future—the honor will be far more meaningful now that Robeson is in.

Biscayne Baywatch

Did vagabond college football clipboard carrier Lou Saban really turn down an offer to coach the University of Miami last week? No, it just seemed that way after neither coercion nor cajoling could get any college coach to take over the most dominant program of the last 11 years. While the rejections prompted speculation that prospective coaches feared the Hurricanes were about to be hide-strapped by the NCAA for improper payments to players, other factors most likely accounted for the delay in replacing Dennis Erickson. Miami was astonishingly unprepared for Erickson's departure to the NFL, which outsiders had expected for at least two years. It thus allowed itself to fall victim to the recruiting calendar and the reluctance of coaches to publicly compete for any job, even one as choice as Miami's, at this time of year.

On Jan. 13. the day after Erickson announced he would leave the Hurricanes for the Seattle Seahawks, second-year Miami athletic director Paul Dee began contacting candidates. Within six days at least eight college coaches had publicly forsworn their interest, even though only three of them had been interviewed. "Head coaches can't afford to be candidates in January," says Auburn coach Terry Bowden. That's because, if a coach's candidacy becomes known in advance of next month's letter-of-intent signing date and he doesn't get the job, he returns home to an angry staff and a lousy recruiting class. Adds another coach, one who interviewed for the job: "Miami should have done all the preliminary work early. Sec your three guys on the q.t., find out who's interested, and when Dennis leaves, make your move."

By Monday, despite the Hurricanes' stated preference for a man with head coaching experience, the school had settled on Dallas Cowboy assistant Butch Davis, who had once assisted Jimmy Johnson in Coral Gables. That left Miami with someone who has been out of college coaching for seven years.

"There's never a bad time to lake a good job," Bowden says. "And Miami is a good job." Perhaps, but to a lot of college coaches last week it didn't appear so.

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