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Grambling Tigers

Hue Jackson’s vision to move Grambling forward won’t look like the past

New Tigers coach wants to resurrect a sustainable winner without staying stuck in old methods

The journey to making Grambling a championship-caliber football team again doesn’t intimidate coach Hue Jackson.

He understands the work required on and off the field to resurrect this once-proud program that hasn’t won more than six games since the 2017 season.

To do so, Jackson must deftly handle the delicate balance between respecting the past and changing the Tigers’ culture.

The past is all about Eddie Robinson, the third-winningest coach in NCAA history.

Robinson, the first college coach to win 400 games, sent more than 200 players to the NFL while winning 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) championships and nine Black college championships in 57 seasons.

He is Grambling.

There’s a museum named after him documenting his contributions to the game, and the football stadium bears his name.

On the wall leading into the Tigers’ weight room there’s a collage of seven pictures of Robinson from various times in his career.

Then there’s the alumni base that seemingly compares everything to the good old days when Grambling football set the standard for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“I have the utmost respect for what he created at Grambling, what he did at Grambling and what he left Grambling with, but we have to now move this thing forward in a whole different vision, because if we stay stuck in old methods, we can never get to new heights,” Jackson told Andscape recently.

“He did it in his time better than anybody ever did it, but this is 2022 and the whole landscape of college football has changed. They hired me to move it forward, hopefully in the likes of his success.”

Treyvean Scott, vice president of intercollegiate athletics, wanted to hire an offensive-minded coach who would embrace Robinson’s legacy.

“You feel Eddie Robinson every day,” Scott said. “You feel 57 years of sustained excellence, so there is pressure.”

Grambling reportedly drew interest from applicants such as Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and Kevin Sumlin, who has coached Houston, Texas A&M and Arizona.

When Scott was the deputy athletic director at Southern, Jackson’s name had come up in conversation when the Jaguars had an opening.

When Scott had a chance to hire his first coach, Jackson was near the top of his list.

“I wanted a builder of men, which is something Coach Robinson did for 50-60 years of his life,” Scott said. “I wanted someone focused on competing at a high level and thinking outside of the box of the SWAC and HBCUs and a coach interested in building a FCS powerhouse.”

Changing the culture at a place steeped in culture like Grambling is always difficult. It’s about developing a new mindset and environment.

To make it easier, Jackson didn’t keep any of the coaches from Broderick Fobbs’ staff. Fobbs had coached Grambling since 2014.

Jackson has added 50 players, so this isn’t really even the same team that hasn’t won more than six games since 2017.

“You have to change mindsets and you have to change thought processes as fast as you can. And if you can’t change them, then you have to change people. The people that are saying why do we have to change. Those are the people that you have to change as fast as you can. It’s not that you throw everybody out. Some people are willing to change.”

— Hue Jackson

The Tigers, picked to finish fourth in the SWAC’s West division behind Southern, Alcorn State and Prairie View A&M, have their first practice Wednesday. They open the season on Sept. 3 against Arkansas State.

“They haven’t seen Grambling like this in a long time,” linebacker Joshua Reed said. “Coach Jackson has done a great job bringing us along. We’re going to get back to the Grambling way and win.”

Grambling placed one player, defensive lineman Sundiata Anderson, on the All-SWAC first team and three on the second team.

“Let’s be honest. You have to change mindsets and you have to change thought processes as fast as you can,” Jackson said. “And if you can’t change them, then you have to change people.

“The people that are saying why do we have to change. Those are the people that you have to change as fast as you can. It’s not that you throw everybody out. Some people are willing to change.

“But the people who fight and resist the change to see things differently to see a different type of vision we know when you go to places like that, everyone has to elevate their thought process.”

Grambling requires more than just an infusion of talent. The infrastructure around the program also needs improvement, from locker rooms to the weight room.

Travel needs to be improved so the Tigers don’t have to use a bus to go everywhere. Jackson wants a training table where he has more control of his players’ nutrition.

There’s no secret formula to raising the money; about $5 million would do the trick. Jackson needs to transform the program.

The way you do that, he said, is to explain it step-by-step to anyone and everyone who asks.

“You have to be transparent and let them know and see the passion of what we’re trying to create and walk them through it. At the end of the day, everyone wants to win,” Jackson said. “You have to be intentional and show them what that looks like in a sustainable matter, not a onetime season.

“We need as many booster and sponsors and alumni relations as we can. You have to be able to show them where you are, where you’re trying to going and here’s the road map. Some people want it to happen real quick just like I do and that’s the hard part.”

Jackson, known as an offensive mind from his time in the NFL, was an NFL head coach with the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns.

He went 8-8 with the Raiders and 3-36-1 in Cleveland, including an 0-16 season in 2017.

After coaching in the NFL from 2001 to 2019, Hue Jackson returned to the sideline as Tennessee State’s offensive coordinator in 2021.

Lauren Bacho/AP Images for NFL

He was out of football for two years before joining coach Eddie George’s staff at Tennessee State as offensive coordinator before taking the Grambling job.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. None of these things are easy,” Jackson said. “You sit here and say, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ because it’s going to take every last bit of energy, every bit of focus and fight because you’re trying to change a culture. And you’re trying to get people to see and believe in your vision.

“Here’s an opportunity to come to a historic university and restore the legacy. At some point, I’m not going to be able to do this at this level. What better way to leave your name and legacy than to climb this mountain and get it done?”

Jean-Jacques Taylor, a native of Dallas, is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL for 25 years and is president of JJT Media Group.