Relatives of Greg Robinson remember his generosity, his passion for football

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Max Meisel remembers walking into Greg Robinson’s office in the spring of 2005, hoping to get on the Syracuse football team. The 5-foot-4, 145-pound freshman was unlikely to see the pitch, but he asked Robinson to take a chance. The head coach studied him for a while before agreeing, and Meisel eventually became a kick returner, graduating from SU with two letters.

“He taught me the first biggest lesson in life: that you have to pursue what you want in life and you have to do it with as much passion as possible,” Meisel said. “I’m 35 now and I feel like I can do anything because of the gifts Coach Robinson gave me.”

Five years ago, Meisel said Robinson called him the shortest – and toughest – player he had ever coached.

He is remembered for his kindness, generosity and general passion for football by former Syracuse players and assistant coaches, many said.

Robinson died Jan. 5 of a form of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 70 years old.

The Southern California native has coached, both college and in the NFL, for five decades. Robinson’s career included stints as defensive coordinator for the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos – with whom he won Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998 – and at the University of Texas. in 2004, all ultimately leading to his first head coaching job at Syracuse.

Robinson led the Orange from 2005 to 2008, going 10-37 over four losing seasons, with five wins later vacated due to NCAA violations. But he signed several future NFL players, which helped his successor, Doug Marrone, take SU to two bowling games. While in Syracuse, Robinson anchored himself in the local community and created a family atmosphere within the program, several people said.

“His time (at Syracuse) was tough,” Robinson’s son Dominic said. “But I don’t think he’s ever regretted coming here and he’s still very grateful for everything this place has given him.”

Robinson grew up in the midst of eight children and was sometimes “lost in the shuffle”, Dominic said. He had problems growing up, developing a ‘rebellious spirit’, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary.

Former players said Greg Robinson stayed positive during losing streaks, telling his teams he always believed they could win. Daily orange file photo

But playing football gave Robinson a purpose, Dominic said, and eventually led to him becoming a coach. Robinson became an assistant at the University of the Pacific after playing there from 1972 to 1974. By 1990 he had progressed through the NFL as the defensive line coach of the Jets, where Robinson quickly established a reputation for his ability to lead defenses. In the 1998-99 playoffs, Robinson’s Broncos defense allowed just two touchdowns in three games, leading to a Super Bowl title.

After winning the Rose Bowl with Texas in 2004, Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross hired Robinson to replace Paul Pasqualoni in 2005. Former SU assistant Chris White recalled Robinson spent time with the rest of the Pasqualoni staff, sharing his plan for the future of the program. The energy and vision Robinson brought from his time in the NFL was “refreshing,” White said.

“You could just tell he was really excited to be the head coach of Syracuse,” White said.

Robinson installed a new West Coast Offense, as well as new defensive schemes. The coach was heavily involved in defense – what former linebacker Derrell Smith described as “his baby”. During his first two seasons, Robinson served as both head coach and defensive coordinator.

Linebacker Jake Flaherty recalled how Robinson focused on detail and teaching technique, and how he was particularly adamant that linebackers could cover the width of the court when moving laterally. Flaherty said he still remembers SU’s three base defenses and each player’s mission because of the way Robinson coached.


Several former players said Robinson left a huge impact on them even after graduating from SU. Daily orange file photo

Flaherty was just one of many former players Robinson touched. Several of them sent their best wishes to the Robinson family as their health deteriorated in recent months in a video tribute Meisel hosted around Christmas. Dominic said he received countless text messages and emails from people touched by Robinson’s kindness.

“Seeing one after another – some of our star players, guys who became really good NFL players, some of our extras – hearing them all deliver the same message… was obviously really special,” Dominic said. “You can’t always get the results you want on the pitch, but (Robinson) was damn determined to create the environment he wanted to create in the dressing room. And clearly he succeeded with that.

Robinson stressed the importance of family during his tenure as head coach, former players said. His wife Laura always brought players cookies on Fridays, former punter Rob Long said, and Meisel said Laura was a “mother figure” to every player on the team. Every Sunday of the season was a “family day,” Smith said, where coaches brought their families for dinner at Manley Field House. When Long arrived in Syracuse in 2007, Robinson invited all the freshmen to his home for dinner.

During Robinson’s time in Syracuse, he and Laura were also involved in several community organizations, including St. Lucia Church, where Laura worked in the soup kitchen. Robinson spent time at the Elmcrest Children’s Center and Flaherty recalled going to local hospitals, churches and aged care facilities with his head coach. Robinson also enjoyed going to Kitty Hoynes in downtown Syracuse, and he participated in the city’s 10-mile Mountain Goat Run with his friends, Dominic said.

You could just tell he was really excited to be Syracuse’s head coach.

Chris White, former Syracuse assistant coach

“Community service — giving back to the community — was a big part of his coaching philosophy,” White said.

With Syracuse sitting at 2-8 with two games remaining in the 2008 season, Robinson learned he would not be returning the following season. The following week, the Oranges were three-touchdown underdogs at Notre Dame.

But SU scored the game-winning touchdown in the final minute, giving Robinson his last and greatest win as head coach. The game meant more to Robinson, who grew up in an Irish Catholic family and was a lifelong Notre Dame fan, Dominic said.

“If you had to go out, that was a pretty special way to do it,” Dominic said.

During a practice that week, Flaherty recalled Robinson, then 57, jokingly tackling one of Syracuse’s running backs. The energy and passion Robinson brought to practice each week despite leading one of the worst teams in the Big East still stands out to his former players today.


Greg Robinson went 10-37 as SU head coach, but he helped recruit and develop several players who played in the NFL. Daily orange file photo

“No matter what, he believed in it,” Smith said. “We’ve had a lot of losing seasons, but for him it was like, ‘Next week we’re going to go out there and win. “”

Meisel remembered how graciously Robinson handled the loss and never sued the media. Instead, the coach stood on the podium week after week with respect and humility, Meisel said.

At his last Syracuse press conference, Robinson compared his consistent positivity to that depicted in the children’s book “The Little Engine That Could”, saying “I still think I can”.

Former players and coaches said Robinson should not be remembered just for his four-year tenure at SU, but should rather be celebrated for his long-time work as a football manager and family man.

“He achieved the pinnacle of success in his profession,” Meisel said. “And he raised a really great family. Even though 70 is way too young to die, you look at it and say, “You know what, it’s a great life and I hope I can achieve that kind of success, while having an impact on others. live as he did.

“And it’s a life well lived, when you really look at it that way.”

Contact Conor: [email protected] | @csmith17_