Grambling’s proud football program is back to its winning ways.
One year after a messy player boycott called attention to the school’s shoddy facilities, caused a forfeit of a conference game and embarrassed the university, the Tigers (7-4, 7-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) are playing for a spot in the league championship game when they face Southern (8-3, 7-1) on Saturday in the Bayou Classic in New Orleans.
Senior defensive back Tyree Hollins said the quick turnaround is the product of a changed attitude.
“We just made the decision that we don’t look back,'” Hollins said. “What’s important is now. We just keep progressing and looking forward and focusing on what we can become.”
Grambling, which is located in north Louisiana just off Interstate 20, has long been one of the nation’s most recognizable historically black universities, largely because of the success of its football program under the late Eddie Robinson.
Robinson won 408 games at Grambling over a 57-year career from 1941 to 1997, winning 17 SWAC championships and churning out dozens of NFL players in the process.
But the Tigers have struggled in recent seasons. They were a combined 2-21 during 2012 and 2013 and players grew increasingly tired of the university’s crumbling infrastructure and administrative decisions.
The situation reached a climax when popular third-year coach Doug Williams was fired in the middle of last season. Soon afterward, the players refused to board the bus to play Jackson State and the Tigers had to forfeit. The players returned the following week, but Grambling struggled to a 1-11 finish.
Grambling hired Broderick Fobbs after the season to rebuild the program. The 40-year-old played at Grambling in the 1990s under Robinson and quickly restored order to the program. The school also has a new president and athletic director.
“Really, what we did was focus on the things that we can control,” Fobbs said. “The facilities are slowly improving, but our focus is just winning football games. We owe it to our fans to go out there and try to win.”
Hollins said the school’s football facilities have improved in some regards, but the biggest improvement is, “We feel our voice is actually heard.”
Former Grambling star Jason Hatcher, who now plays defensive end for the Washington Redskins, said he was impressed at how quickly Fobbs had managed to turn things around.
“I take pride in my school,” Hatcher said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the Florida States or nothing like that in the world, I had an awesome experience there and I’m just happy we’re on the up-and-up now, so hopefully we continue going up.”
Williams, Grambling’s former coach, is also one of the school’s most famous alumni. He was the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins in 1988 and took a job in the Redskins’ front office after being fired by Grambling last year.
Williams also coached Grambling from 1998 to 2003 — winning 52 games over six seasons — before returning in 2011. Williams said he was in the process of replenishing the program’s talent base when disagreements with the former administration led to his dismissal.
He said his firing still stings, but Fobbs is doing a good job continuing the program’s development.
“It’s always good to see Grambling win,” Williams said. “I know a lot of those kids personally and it’s good to see them play well. They’re good players. That’s why we recruited them.”
AP Sports Writer Joseph White in Washington D.C., contributed to this story.
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