Dear Mr. Football: Does Arizona have any connections to Grambling State?
A: After UA coach Darrell Mudra controversially quit his job following an 8-3 Sun Bowl season in 1968, Arizona athletic director Dick Clausen phoned Grambling State football coach Eddie Robinson and asked him to be Arizona’s head coach.
“He asked me why,” Clausen told me in a 1992 interview. “I told him he was a great coach. I told him the game was going to change and opportunities for (African-American) coaches and players were going to increase. I thought Tucson was ready for it.”
Robinson, then 49, declined; he never left Grambling State, remaining the head coach until 1997.
Before Clausen retired, he was successful in hiring Arizona’s first African-American assistant football coach, Willie Peete, who had been a UA tight end from 1956-59 and was coaching high school ball in Mesa. Arizona didn’t hire a second African-American football assistant until Charlie Lee in 1974, and a third, Karl Singer, in 1977.
Now, seven of Arizona’s nine full-time assistant football coaches are African-Americans.
Clausen’s vision of racial diversity in college football, especially at the head-coaching level, has not become manifest in the Pac-12. Since Clausen attempted to hire Eddie Robinson in 1969, Pac-12 schools have made 92 coaching changes.
Only a few African-Americans have been hired: Stanford’s Dennis Green and Tyrone Willingham, Colorado’s Jon Embree and UCLA’s Karl Dorrell. Willingham also coached at Washington.
Dear Mr. Football: Did Arizona ever benefit from Grambling State?
A: At 1967’s Super Bowl I, when marching bands from Grambling and Arizona performed at halftime, the UA was so impressed with Grambling’s music and presentation that it, ahem, borrowed from the Tigers.
“Our drum section spent some time with theirs at Super Bowl rehearsals,” remembers Mitch Katz, a UA alumnus, band member and retired California teacher. “Our drummers ultimately adopted Grambling’s drum cadence.”
Even though it has been 49 years, Katz remembers Grambling’s musical selections. “Their rendition of (the 1966 hit) ‘Knock on Wood’ with an electric organ” was outstanding.
Dear Mr. Football: Why doesn’t Grambling State play more FBS opponents?
A: Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said it took two phone calls and about $700,000 to schedule Saturday’s game. “We paid a little more to make sure the band would be here,” he said.
Since Robinson began coaching Grambling State in 1941, the Tigers almost never left the South. They had a rare home-and-home series with Oregon State in 1975 and 1985 (and beat the Beavers twice) and have only played solo games against FBS teams Louisville, Cal, TCU, Washington State and Pitt in the last 40 years.
It’s not that Grambling State will be awed by a crowd of 45,000 to 50,000 at Arizona Stadium. Last September they drew 51,328 in a neutral-field setting against Prairie View A&M at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, and in a Thanksgiving weekend game against Southern, packed 62,507 into the New Orleans Superdome.
Dear Mr. Football: Did Arizona get anything more than a blow to its ego by losing to BYU in Phoenix?
A: Financially, the game was about a push from what an Arizona Stadium game drawing about 50,000 would net, or roughly $900,000. The UA was not responsible for any of the game-day-related expenses in Glendale, which probably topped $400,000, and usually are about $300,000 in Tucson.
But losing to the Cougars spoiled much of the anticipation for the first half of Arizona’s schedule. What did the Wildcats gain?
The Nielsen TV ratings people listed the Fox Sports 1 audience for the UA-BYU game at 728,000. On the same day, Alabama-USC drew 4.7 million on ESPN, and a day earlier the Colorado-Colorado State game attracted 1,073,000.
The Arizona-BYU game drew a smaller TV audience on Sept. 3 than Nickelodeon’s 8:30 a.m. broadcast of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which drew 2,001,000.
Dear Mr. Football: How did Grambling get its name?
A: The school has been called by several names over the last 115 years. Its initial title was the Colored Industrial and Agricultural School. Four years later, it adjusted its name to Northern Louisiana Agricultural and Industrial School.
In 1928, it again changed is name to Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute, and in 1946 it began using Grambling. Why? A wealthy Louisiana sawmill owner, Judson H. Grambling, made a significant financial contribution, donating a parcel of land to the school.
Dear Mr. Football: Is Arizona in better physical condition than Grambling State?
A: The side panel of the 18-wheeler that transports Arizona’s football equipment to and from road games says, in capital letters:
FOOTBALL TEAM IN AMERICA”
But that honor last week was probably earned by the Houston Cougars, who stunned No. 3 Oklahoma to become the ranking Cinderella in college football.
“We train, hopefully harder than anybody in the country,” Houston coach Tom Herman said. “I don’t have any metrics that say we do. Our goal is, train harder and more physical than any program in the country. We like to think that we practice so hard that the games are easy.”
Now the Cougars just need to get a bigger truck.
Dear Mr. Football: Is there likely to be any suspense in the Grambling State game?
A: Arizona sophomore quarterback Brandon Dawkins, who is likely to start or at least play for an extended period, posted this message on his Twitter feed at 6:44 p.m. on Aug. 29.
“When will America open its eyes? Thank you @Kaepernick7.”
Because the game should be a walkover, Dawkins figures to be a central figure. If he chooses not to honor the flag during the national anthem, he will become the game’s lead story even before it begins.
Dear Mr. Football: Who is the most able coach on the Arizona and Grambling State staffs?
A: My vote is to Lee Fobbs, who is the father of Grambling State head coach Broderick Fobbs.
At 66, Lee Fobbs could write a book about college football coaching. He has been on the staffs at Alabama, LSU, Baylor and Texas A&M. He played and coached for Grambling State’s Robinson, on teams that went 9-1 and 10-2.
The only other father-coaches-for-son situation I recall was USC’s Lane Kiffin hiring his father, Monte, as the Trojans’ defensive coordinator.
But this isn’t USC or the Pac-12. According to the News-Star of Monroe, Louisiana, Lee Fobbs is paid $65,000 to coach Grambling State’s running backs. A similar position coach in the Pac-12 would be paid close to $250,000.
Similarly, the Tigers will be outgunned on the field.
Arizona 59, Grambling State 10.