I’m having a hard time coming up with a way to discuss Greg Robinson that doesn’t make me seem like a hypocritical prick. The fact that the first sentence in my eulogy for him is about me doesn’t do me any favors, but it also sums up my relationship with the former Syracuse Orange football coach.
The first post in the history of the TNIAAM wasn’t about Greggers, or GERG as he would come to be known. That might surprise some people, but it wasn’t until late November, a month and a half after the blog debuted, that a post was dedicated to our ol’ ball coach. It wasn’t positive. And over the course of the next few years, there would be few positive articles about his football program written here and elsewhere.
For all the success the site had in those early years, we owed a lot of it to Greg Robinson’s lack thereof. Syracuse football fans were not in a good place and our shared misery found a home here and on other Orange blogs with Robinson as our punching bag. If running a niche sports blog covering one of the worst football programs in the nation generated any kind of money, Greg would have been my cash cow.
I don’t know if Robinson, who died on Wednesday at the age of 70, was ever aware of what we wrote or said here. I hope he wasn’t. College football fans vent and argue and blame with the best of them and we Syracuse fans felt like we had plenty of reasons to do all of that. I’m not sure there’s a version of a Syracuse blog between 2005 and 2008 that has much of anything nice to say about the state of the program or the person in charge of it.
But beyond the many losses, the Gregisms, and the Little Engine That Could jokes, I think you’d be hard-pressed to dislike Greg Robinson the human being. I said on many occasions that Greg seemed like the kind of guy you’d love to have as an uncle. You could imagine sitting next to him on Thanksgiving watching NFL games while he split his time sharing insights and terrible dad jokes.
College football doesn’t reward affable uncles, however. It rewards the Urban Meyers of the world. The kind of qualities that, by all accounts, made him a charming person to be around, just didn’t translate to wins while he was with us. But that doesn’t make those qualities less valid.
Robinson moved on after his time with Syracuse, briefly working as a DC with Michigan and ending his career at San Jose State. He retired in 2015 following that team’s bowl victory and the final football image we have of him is one where he’s dancing on the sidelines, surrounded by all of his players who are cheering him on. You don’t have a moment like that if people don’t like you.
On his retirement, I wrote a farewell post to Greg that, reading it back now, feels like a eulogy all its own. It was a catharsis that those of us who watched Syracuse in the 00s could let go of how we felt and what we thought. A chance for us to move forward. And so could Robinson.
“Again, no delusions about whitewashing the era of Syracuse Football between 2005 and 2008. It’s an era we’re still recovering from. The weird thing about sports is that we measure you based on the cold, hard stat sheet. Did you win or did you lose? Nothing else really matters. But if you’re willing to look past that, you can’t deny that Greg Robinson tried. He really did. He really was the Little Engine That Could. He just couldn’t.”
While “it can maybe snowball into something that can catch fire” is undoubtedly the most famous Gregism, I was always very partial to “don’t try to figure it out because it isn’t figured out yet. That’s really what I tell you. It is and it isn’t.” Even now, I have to re-read it three or four times just to fully grasp what Greg was saying there. It’s Dino Babers’ “belief without evidence” in the most inelegant way possible.
That’s how I like to think about the Greg Robinson era these days. Inelegantly earnest. It didn’t work out like we all hoped but not for a lack of fightin’ the fight.