By Joe Spears | @joe_spears7
Sports Capital Journalism Program
ATLANTA – In January, 1996, Grambling State coaching legend Eddie Robinson and his grandson Eddie Robinson III were among those in attendance at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., watching Nebraska produce one of the most overwhelming championship victories in the modern history of major college football.
On the Nebraska sideline, Scott Frost, a redshirt transfer player, watched as the Cornhuskers demolished the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators, 62-24, in the Fiesta Bowl.
A little more than 22 years later, Eddie Robinson III was presenting Frost with the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award as voted by members of the Football Writers Association of America. Frost led the University of Central Florida to a 13-0 record including a 34-27 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl victory over Auburn.
“Researching the Robinson family and Coach Robinson, it makes me feel more honored to receive this award,” Frost said. “He took over Grambling in 1941 from what I read and they went 3-5-1 that first year. In his second season they went undefeated at 9-0. I think there’s some symmetry there.”
Frost came to UCF from Oregon in 2016 after seven seasons as an assistant. During one of Frost’s three seasons as offensive coordinator, quarterback Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy.
The UCF program had a record of 0-12 in 2015. During Frost’s first year, UCF went 6-7 with an appearance in the AutoNation Cure Bowl. Despite the quick turnaround, no one could have expected what Frost and UCF would have in store for 2017.
The Knights became the first team in the history of the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision to go from a winless season to an undefeated season within two years. On Dec. 2, Frost was introduced as the coach at his alma mater.
“Reading about Coach Robinson and knowing what I know about him, he was there for his players,” Frost said. “I read that he coached other sports. He was the bandleader. The cheerleader sponsor. He lined the field himself…
“Being a coach is about sacrifice and making sure that people know that you care about them and sacrificing yourself to help them. I had a staff of coaches that did that. I think that led to the relationship we had with the players. Even with us departing, we were still one big family and everyone was fighting for each other.”
First awarded to Ohio State’s Woody Hayes in 1957 by the FWAA, the award has included a long list of distinguished coaches. Frost was the first coach from a Florida school to win the award. In 1997, Frost led Nebraska to a 13-0 record as the starting quarterback, and 20 years later he did the same thing for UCF as a head coach. This accomplishment makes him the first man to lead a team to a 13-0 record as both a player and a head coach.
It was in 1997, the year that Robinson retired from coaching, that the award was officially named after him. With 408 wins during his 55-year career, Robinson is remembered as one of the greatest coaches of all-time but it also remembered highly for all of the work he did to change the game of football for the better.
In 2007 Robinson passed away at 88 but his legacy lives on through his family and through the honor that is awarded each year to college football’s top coach.
“Whoever is the recipient of the award, I’ll always go and try to see if I can connect some dots and find if there is a relationship with grandpops,” Robinson III said. “I just try to find some synergy between Eddie Robinson and the coach of the year recipient.
“I followed Coach Frost as a player at Nebraska as I followed Nebraska football because of Coach Tom Osborne and his relationship with my grandfather.”
Robinson III has been eager to continue the family tradition.
“When the Football Writers Association of America honored not only him but the family by naming the award after him, we couldn’t do anything but have buy-in,” Robinson III said. “Growing up I knew what my grandfather stood for. All that’s right with football and all that’s right about this country…
“That’s part of keeping his legacy alive and this is a very important piece to keeping his legacy alive.”