HE DID NOT GO GENTLY
Eddie Robinson, who has won 405 games during a 55-year coaching
career at Grambling, will be remembered as a legend. But even
legends can become tarnished.
Early this month, Robinson learned of a movement among Grambling
alumni--including many of his former players--to oust him. They
were complaining about his coaching (for the first time in
Robinson's tenure the Tigers, who went 3-8 this fall, suffered
consecutive losing seasons) and contending that he had lost
control of his program. Grambling is being investigated by the
NCAA for the fixing of football players' grades, and school
officials are looking into allegations that players were
involved in a rape of a teenage girl in a Grambling dormitory.
Faced with a groundswell supporting his removal, the 77-year-old
Robinson went to university president Raymond Hicks last
Thursday and asked for one last year as coach, so he could leave
on a better note. The next day that request was granted.
It should not have been. Robinson, sad to say, has stayed on too
long. The old master should have resigned gracefully, given his
whistle to a younger man and moved into the vice president's
chair that Grambling had waiting for him. He didn't do that
because the legendary coach is no different from a legendary
athlete, clinging to his career as if it were life itself.
"People say I'm supposed to let a younger guy take over,"
Robinson said last week as he sat in his office and gnawed on
the curious forces that had driven him to swim so forcefully
against a strong tide. "Well, I'm not stepping down. I want to
prove I can still win at this age. I've got a good feeling about
getting this extra year. But I've got a touch of embarrassment
that I had to ask for it."
December 23, 1996
Robinson, who has won more games than Bear Bryant or Amos Alonzo
Stagg, proves nothing but his own stubbornness by trying to win
a few more and delaying Grambling's future. Robinson recalls a
chilling conversation he had in 1982 with the just-retired
Bryant, who was to die shortly thereafter. "He said, 'Eddie,
coach as long as you can. Once you get out, you're going to be
bored slap to death,'" Robinson said. "I think about that a lot
now. I ain't ready to sit in a rocking chair and wait for death
to come calling on me."
But nobody was asking that of Robinson, who will be Grambling's
eternal goodwill ambassador. The larger mission of educating
youth still excites him, and he could teach in a lecture hall as
well as a stadium. Instead, to indulge a mulish pride, he will
coach one more year. Eddie Robinson today is just another
college coach with too many losses and too many off-the-field
problems. In the future he will get a slice of immortality. For
the present he will get pity, and that's a shame. --Tim Layden
GIVE UNTIL IT HURTS
'Tis the holiday season, and that's a good time to remember the
Golden State Warriors, a franchise that through the years has
given so much to so many other NBA teams, while generally
receiving little in return. Wilt Chamberlain, who was a San
Francisco Warrior when he was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers in
1965, was traded for Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer
and cash. Robert Parish was sent to the Boston Celtics in '80
for two draft choices who became problem child Joe Barry Carroll
and mediocre Rickey Brown. The Warriors' beneficent ways
continue today. Consider that five players traded by Golden
State now lead other teams in scoring: Chris Gatling (Dallas),
Tom Gugliotta (Minnesota), Tim Hardaway (Miami), Mitch Richmond
(Sacramento) and Chris Webber (Washington).
That's not a bad starting five, good enough, as we see it, to
manhandle the current edition of the Warriors, who were 8-16 at
CANTY MAKES THE RIGHT MOVE
As expected, Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel walked off with
college football's most prestigious honor last Saturday when he
received the 62nd Heisman Trophy. But the sport's most
heartening award news last week may have been Kansas State
cornerback Chris Canty's decision to remove himself from the
running for any postseason hardware. Canty, who intercepted five
passes this season and has already been named to five
All-America teams, appeared a lock to get the Jim Thorpe Award,
which is given to the top college defensive back. In addition
Canty was a candidate for both the Bronko Nagurski Award (given
to the best defensive player) and the Maxwell Defensive Award.
But Canty withdrew his name from consideration for any of those
trophies, citing his Dec. 9 arrest by campus police for driving
under the influence of alcohol. He then apologized for his
failure to carry himself "as a positive role model."
There was speculation that Wildcats coach Bill Snyder had made
the decision for Canty, but neither would comment. Regardless,
it was a good call.
Canty's withdrawal led to a revote by Thorpe balloters, who
chose Florida's Lawrence Wright, an outstanding safety who has
done a variety of good deeds off the field. In 1994 Wright set
up the Right Trak program, which has provided athletic and
academic guidance/tutoring for 40 at-risk kids from the Miami
neighborhood in which he grew up. Wright's architectural
plans--he's a building-construction major--are being used to
build a community center in that same neighborhood. In short
Wright has carried himself as the positive role model Canty
regretted not having been.
Abdirizak Mohamud's victory in last Saturday's Foot Locker
National High School Cross-Country Championship in San Diego
represents a coming together of dedicated coaching and raw
athletic potential. Abdirizak, a 17-year-old junior at Boston
English High, took up the sport just two months ago, but in a
way he's been running for much of his life. In 1988, civil war
broke out in his native Somalia, and, eventually, he, his mother
and 10 brothers and sisters fled their home in Mogadishu. They
lived in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya before moving to
Boston in 1993. Abdirizak began running track, competing in
middle-distance events, after he enrolled at Boston English in
'94, but he never considered cross-country until last spring,
when he met Tony DaRocha.
DaRocha, a 35-year-old physical education teacher at Boston's
Lewenberg Middle School, is high school cross-country in Boston.
In the 1970s, faced with dwindling interest, the city's 15
public high schools dropped their cross-country programs. Since
then, kids from those schools who have wanted to take part in
the sport have done so under the aegis of a single citywide
program. That program was moribund when DaRocha, a former
national-class distance runner at Boston University, took over
as coach in '92. This season his program comprised some 25 kids,
all of them immigrants or refugees, from Cuba, the Dominican
Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti, Jamaica, Somalia, Vietnam or Zaire.
"Few speak English well, and a lot have jobs after school," says
DaRocha, "but they get turned on when they see what they can
accomplish." DaRocha's runners race as nonscorers in suburban
dual meets and as individual entrants in invitationals, usually
outfitted in singlets borrowed from their school's track teams.
DaRocha spotted Abdirizak running track last season, was
impressed by his speed and talked him into stepping up in
distance. Though Abdirizak found his first two-mile run, in
September, so grueling that he didn't show up for practice for
another two weeks, his cross-country talent soon blossomed. He
finished second in the state meet and second again in the Foot
Locker Northeast Regional. In San Diego, Abdirizak outran the 31
other finalists with a strong sprint over the last 400 meters of
the 3.1-mile course. His performance pleased, but did not
surprise, DaRocha. "He's starting to realize how good he can
be," says DaRocha. "This was a great learning experience for
both of us."
PROJECT FOR THE FUTURE
The most intriguing confrontation of the NCAA soccer tournament
in Richmond took place not on the field--where St. John's
defeated Florida International 4-1 on Sunday to win its first
national team championship--but in a conference room at the Omni
hotel. That's where 20 or so college coaches engaged Major
League Soccer (MLS) deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati in a debate
on Project-40, an initiative that seeks to develop a select
group of American teenagers into elite professionals by
providing them an alternative to college soccer.
The program, to be run by MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation
(USSF), will offer developmental contracts next spring to 30 of
America's top 18- and 19-year-olds, who will be chosen from a
pool of 40, including members of the U.S. under-20 team. Players
who sign the contracts, which will be worth less than MLS's
minimum salary of $28,000, will surrender their college
eligibility. Although they have not worked out all the details,
MLS and the USSF plan to give participating athletes money,
beyond that paid by their contract, to help cover the cost of
college if they wish to pursue a degree.
Opponents believe that Project-40 will gut top-level college
soccer and fear that the program will lead many players to a
dead end. "Down the line it could be good for the national team,
but a lot of these kids aren't going to make it as pros," says
University of Washington coach Dean Wurzberger. Some opponents
are concerned that players who go to college and then try to
pursue a pro career will be given less of a chance than the
Project-40 players. Gulati concedes that his league will likely
treat a nonproject player as the equivalent of "a walk-on
compared to a scholarship athlete, simply because we will have
invested money in one player and not the other."
Project-40 supporters argue that the program is the U.S.'s best
hope for catching up to the world's soccer powers and that it
will not be a death knell for the college game. "Ninety-nine
percent of college soccer players aren't right for this
program," says D.C. United coach Bruce Arena, a former coach at
the University of Virginia.
And don't assume that all the top players will jump at the
chance to be part of Project-40. Josh Wolff, a forward on the
U.S. under-20 team, has already committed to returning to the
University of South Carolina, where he will be a sophomore next
fall. "When it comes down to it," says Wolff, "are you really
willing to give up four years of scholarship--which is worth
$70,000 or so--just to be given the chance to earn $20,000 a
year and maybe not make it as a pro?"
Last spring, in suggesting opponents that the Division III
Rutgers-Camden men's basketball team might schedule in hope of
ending its NCAA-record 108-game losing streak (Scorecard, April
1, 1996), we nominated California Maritime Academy from Vallejo,
Calif., as a possible patsy. The NAIA Division II Keelhaulers
qualified for our list in part because their nine-win 1995-96
season had included six victories over two hapless bible
colleges. But we are happy to report that this season, under the
guidance of new coach Dan Dion, California Maritime has reversed
course and at week's end had won its first 13 games by an
average of 25 points. And only three of those victories came
against a bible college.
As for Rutgers-Camden, well, the Pioneers have opened the season
with eight straight losses.
Holes of golf played in 1996 by Jake Engel of Oklahoma City,
breaking by one the world record set in '69.
Inches from the floor to the basin of urinals in Denver's
McNichols Sports Arena locker rooms, a figure that drew a rebuke
from the NBA for being two inches lower than league standard.
Halftime espressos downed by Italian third-division soccer
player Cristiano Gagliarducci, which put him over his league's
"caffeine limit" and resulted in a three-month suspension.
Registered soccer players in Canada, a 13% increase from 1995.
Registered hockey players in Canada in 1996, marking the first
time that hockey was not the country's most widely played sport.
Margin, in pins, of Walter Ray Williams Jr.'s three-match win
over Wendy Macpherson in the $30,000 winner-take-all bowling
battle of the sexes.
As Roger Clemens's average annual salary has risen, his pitching
prowess has fallen. Will the newest Toronto Blue Jay earn his
TOO CLOSE TO HOME
Jerry Maguire, TriStar Pictures
The public relations flack for Maguire will no doubt scan this
review for a phrase to throw into the film's massive ad
campaign. Scan no further. "Scared me out of my wits"--Leigh
Montville, Sports Illustrated.
This is slightly different from the phrases found in other
reviews: "Very funny and very touching"--Larry King, USA Today;
"altogether wondrous"--Richard Schickel, TIME. But the horror in
the movie is obvious to any observer of modern pro sports. Is
this what it's all about? Am I wasting my weekends watching...
this? Writer/director Cameron Crowe has laid out a sports
landscape of greed, populated by cheeseballs and sleazeballs all
in search of folding money. If that vision doesn't horrify you,
chances are you'll get a kick out of this well-made movie.
Maguire, played deftly by Tom Cruise (above), is a
prototypically avaricious agent who suffers from a
momentary--though not terminal--attack of conscience. He is
fired from his job at a big-time agency and left with only one
client, Arizona Cardinals receiver Rod Tidwell, played by Cuba
Gooding Jr. Tidwell's motto is "Show me the money!" and
Maguire's job is to, well, show him the money.
Though played mostly for laughs, one ugly scene follows another.
The father of a No. 1 draft choice goes back on his word and
dumps Maguire for another agent and a more lucrative deal.
Tidwell's wife badgers Maguire to get "the big jewels of sports
promotion"--shoe and soft-drink endorsements--for her husband.
Maguire slips and slides and tells virtually everyone only what
he or she wants to hear. Honesty and humility are forgotten.
Sprinkled through the proceedings like so many expensive potted
palms are sports stars like Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe and Warren
Moon, not to mention the ABC Monday-night crew. (Frank Gifford
on a 30-foot screen--now that's scary.)
An ad for a long-ago horror film urged patrons to repeat the
words "it's only a movie" to calm their fears. I, for one, hope
that's the case here. --Leigh Montville
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
WBC super lightweight champion Oscar De La Hoya gave his 1992
Olympic gold medal, which at the time of his victory he
dedicated to his late mother, to his promoter, Bob Arum, as a
They Said It
Veteran boxing trainer, on the spartan training regimen of
heavyweight Andrew Golota (page 76): "He's a guy who gets up at
six o'clock in the morning regardless of what time it is."