The Blog Squad

Friday, April 18, 2008

One Coach Stays, One Goes Antiquing

I should have picked up on the hints.

When I heard Virginia Union University coach Dave Robbins announced his retirement this week after 30 seasons of leading the men’s basketball team, I thought about our many conversations last October. Several months back I wrote a story for Richmond magazine about Robbins and his tenure at the historically black university on Lombardi Street.

Robbins, 65, compiled a 713-194 record as the first white coach in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. He won three NCAA Division II national championships and coached a handful of players who later found success in the NBA.

He was perhaps the most interesting person in the city. A white man who had transcended race and culture to become a strong and dignified leader of young men. His stories, his memories — whether they be of racial friction or cultural education or basketball glory — are more than enough to fill a book.

During one of our conversations, I asked Coach if he was going to retire after the season. He waffled, prattled on and on about how he wasn’t thinking about it, that he didn’t want such talk to be a distraction.

However, he did drop some hints, and if I had been better at reading between the lines, I would have known he had made up his mind already.

He admitted that there was some symmetry to 30 seasons. It was a nice neat number that universally represents retirement because of vested pension plans after that many years.

He also said back in October that his longtime assistant of 23 years, Willard Coker, was deserving of an opportunity to lead the Panthers. Coker played for Robbins on the first national championship team in 1980.

“It’s a happy, happy day for me, mainly because Coach Coker will be taking over, Robbins,” said Tuesday during a press conference. “He’s a good friend. He is more than ready to take the program and run.”

When I last spoke to Robbins in October, I asked him hypothetically what he would do if he retired since coaching had been a part of his life for 42 years.

“Antiquing,” he replied.

Right there was the biggest clue. Antiquing is searching for something, perhaps a masterpiece, belonging to the past. Maybe Robbins realized it was time to let go and allow the future to happen.

Robbins is a great man in every sense of the word. He is humble, faithful and treats people with goodness and kindness. He also walked away when he felt he needed to move on. As much as the decision will torment him in the nights to come, it was an altruistic act befitting of only great men.

The other coaching move that needs discussion is Virginia Commonwealth University’s effort to keep Anthony Grant for one more season.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in early April that VCU was working on a financial package that would pay Grant “at least $750,000 and possibly close to $900,000 with incentives and basketball camps.” The paper confirmed that Grant is currently making a base salary of $400,000 with a $100,000 annuity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Coach Grant. He’s brought so much joy and pride to my alma mater in two short seasons—he’s 52-15 with a victory in the NCAA tournament over Duke.

But VCU is not an institution where coaches make that kind of money. Dare I drop the cliché? You can buy a lot of library books with that cash. I gulped hard when I heard he was making $500,000 and thought he probably deserved it. But with all apologies to Grant, an amazing coach who will one day earn seven figures annually, if it’s going to take nearly $1 million to keep you, I’d just as soon go after the next young hot coach.

Besides, Grant’s new raise could instead be a great financial start to adding a football team.

OUT AT HOME: Another reason why I hate mowing the lawn. I was grinding away yesterday while my wife was replanting some daffodils. Suddenly, I hear a faint scream. I turned and found her bleeding from a gash on the tip of her nose and on her cheek, which swelled up to the size of a golf ball. Apparently, the lawn mower shot a stick or rock at my wife’s beautiful face. Poor thing. Now she looks like Marcia Brady after that time she took a football to the nose.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Are you kidding me?


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