The days of Black colleges being fertile grounds for football success are in the yesteryear.
Of course, he had to expect it. For miracles don’t happen in dusty backwoods towns – not in this millennium. Last century, it did — for a while. Colleges like Grambling were relevant. Williams knew that, too. He knew it because he was there to see; he was one of those gifted athletes who brought their talents to an out-of-the-way place like Grambling, Louisiana.
Back then, Grambling surely turned out its share of NFL-caliber talent. Under late coach Eddie Robinson, the school was a football powerhouse second to none. Robinson stood side by side with elite coaches like Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes and Bud Wilkerson.
Ask any NFL scout back in the day where to go first to find prime talent, and he would likely pick Grambling over Alabama, Ohio State or Oklahoma. That’s just how good football was on this Deep South campus.
Since Robinson stepped aside in 1997, Grambling has struggled like every other Black college in America to sustain a football program with a national reputation. On Black college campuses, football at the elite level has all but died, because Black colleges can’t get five- and four-star recruits to enroll anymore.
Think about it: If a blue-chip athlete has a choice between Oregon, Notre Dame and Georgia and all their legions of fans who pack into stadiums and all the ESPN, FOX, CBS, NBC and Big 10 network exposure, why would he go to Grambling or Southern or Florida A&M? What’s the attraction?
Grambling has wrestled with these questions since Robinson put the program in someone else’s hands. The school went through a couple of coaches before Williams returned to campus in 2011.
Now, he’s gone, too. The school fired him two games into the 2013 season, and it fired Williams, one-time Grambling star and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Washington Redskins, for the same reasons college athletic directors tend to fire coaches: He didn’t win enough games.
Perhaps the firing of Williams did make good sense. He was coming into 2013 off a 1-10 season and opening this season with two thrashings did little to stoke interest among the faithful.
Still, you ask whether someone else can do any better than Williams did, if the next coach can bring back the Robinson days of Grambling football. It’s not likely the Tigers will ever be what they once were, but maybe they can be a little better than what Williams made them.
Yet whoever the next coach is at Grambling, no matter what his credentials might be, the man will not love Grambling as much as Doug Williams did. For no coach the school hires will be as tied to its glorious past the way Williams was, and the saddest part about his firing is that every person in the athletic department knows this: It will never find another coach like Williams.
Nor will it ever have a coach like Eddie Robinson. His days of winning big are in the school’s past, and Grambling and other Black colleges will never be on the same level as the big-time schools of today are.
The question the Gramblings of the college sports world face is this: What kind of success can their alumni live with?
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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