ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.
NOAH ADAMS, host:
And I'm Noah Adams.
Eddie Robinson died overnight. His is a legendary name in college and professional football. Robinson coached for 57 years at historically black Grambling State University and sent more than 200 players on to the pros, among them Hall-of-Famer Willie Brown. He played for 16 years. He's now coaching with the Oakland Raiders. Thank you, Coach Brown, for helping us here.
Mr. WILLIE BROWN (Coach, Oakland Raiders): No problem. Thank you very much for having me.
ADAMS: Did Coach Robinson come to find you in a small town someplace?
Mr. BROWN: Yes, he did. I - he found me in Yazoo City, Mississippi.
ADAMS: Well, that's a lot of years ago, and I know you've seen him throughout the years since your career. I just have this curiosity. Did you ever call him anything but coach? Never called him Eddie?
Mr. BROWN: Oh, no. Oh, are you kidding me?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BROWN: There's no way. No. You always address him as Coach Eddie Robinson.
ADAMS: Wow. Why did he stay at Grambling so long?
Mr. BROWN: I think that because his track record, things that he had done and his goals and his desire to see the players succeed not only as a football player, but also as a human being. You know, learning positive life skills from a person like him, you know, that was one of the reasons why he stayed there.
ADAMS: Now, he has said, famously, that he tried to coach every player as if he wanted him to marry his daughter.
Mr. BROWN: Well, number one, he had a good-looking daughter.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BROWN: And number two, I guess, is because of he had that desire, you know, to make you a better player and to understand that it's more than just football. And I think that was one of the most important things about Eddie was that he is known for his football skills and the ability and all. But the thing about him, he taught you positive things for life.
ADAMS: Did he push education classes?
Mr. BROWN: Number one. That was number one with him, other than you going to church, he made sure that you went to church. But the next thing he was that he wanted to make sure all these guys got that degree and got it on time.
ADAMS: Do you, in your coaching career, find yourself channeling Coach Robinson?
Mr. BROWN: Well, you have to, because, you know, I was there for four years with him and fortunate enough that some of my habits, some of my thinking surely go along with the things that he had taught me. And I talked to all the players and things they have taught them. So you use those things, particularly if you're in the coaching business because there are certain things that stick with you for the rest of your life.
ADAMS: For example?
Mr. BROWN: Number one, which is just character. And then, though, but also was that Eddie Robinson taught you not only the position that you play - and I plaid the offense and defense - but he taught you to how to play other positions. So he was preparing you also for the pros - if you got the opportunity going to pros, of course.
ADAMS: Can you think way back in your college career and sort of see a movie in your mind, one moment from that practice field or a game?
Mr. BROWN: We would be on a practice field, and he would have this brown briefcase. And he is taking out some notes out there, making you explain your position and your assignment. And that was the funniest thing I ever seen, you know, for his coaching, is that he would carry his briefcase right on the field. All of a sudden, he wants you to, you know, a name out and let him know that you knew your assignment.
ADAMS: Be serious.
Mr. BROWN: And this wasn't one occasion. This happened many, many times with my four years there.
ADAMS: Coach Eddie Robinson died last night at the age of 88. He had reportedly been suffering from declining health…
Mr. BROWN: Right.
ADAMS: …for recent years. And we've been talking with Willie Brown, who's now a coach with the Oakland Raiders. Thank you, Coach Brown.
Mr. BROWN: My pleasure, sir. Thank you very much.