In the FCS Huddle: Fobbs delivers healing at Grambling

Philadelphia, PA ( - Broderick Fobbs could sense Grambling State would be a part of his future even during the moment he was making it his past.

Shortly after he graduated from the university in 1997, he was off to discover the world. Yet as he drove over the hill that so many do while departing both campus and the tiny town in Louisiana, Fobbs looked into his car's rear-view mirror that day and told himself he would be back someday.

"I didn't know when," he remembers today, "didn't know what year or what, but I did know at some point that I'd be back."

Broderick Fobbs is indeed back and Grambling State really needs him now.

He's been hired to restore the legendary football program which he once played for but has fallen on hard times. The mighty Tigers, who became the leading black-college football program during the five decades that the legendary Eddie Robinson roamed the sidelines, have posted back-to-back one-win seasons, and last year endured a firestorm that included a player revolt midway through their contentious campaign.

Fobbs isn't running away from one of the low periods in the storied program's history. But while he led Grambling through its spring practices, which wrapped up last weekend, he felt healing could only come by moving forward and not looking into any rear-view mirror.

"First thing we talked about was letting the past stay where it was," the 39- year-old said. "Because we firmly believe here at Grambling State University, if you look back, then you'll stumble over the obstacles that are in front of you. The first thing we talked about was, hey, it happened and it's in the past. Now let's look forward to trying to correct everything that we had going on."

Grambling hired Fobbs in December, which made him the fourth man in charge of the program in less than three months. In mid-October, the Tigers made the wrong kind of national news for nearly a week, when players staged a walk-out, refusing to practice or play a game over concerns regarding the September firing of popular head coach Doug Williams, their team's long bus rides to games and some training facilities that they felt were dilapidated.

Many of the players, in a showing of unofficial unionization, refused to travel to an away game at Jackson State and the Southwestern Athletic Conference school was forced into a forfeit, later receiving financial penalties from the conference for the actions.

Williams' successor, interim coach George Ragsdale, became Dennis Winston during the revolt, and though the Tigers returned to the field and went on to beat Mississippi Valley State to end an 18-game losing streak against Division I opponents, they still finished 1-11 amid all the embarrassment.

Having watched from downstate at McNeese State, where Fobbs was an assistant coach with a nationally ranked team, he admits, "It was kind of tough, knowing what Grambling has been for me for so many years. It was the only university that I ever wanted to attend, growing up as a football fan.

"Basically," he added, "the first thing we wanted to do this spring was become a family, which meant to learn each other and know as much as we could about each other, as coaches and also as players, and then player to coach and coach to player. I think it's important that we do that because in order to communicate, you have to know each other and communicate effectively."

"Family" is vital in Fobbs' fabric. His parents graduated from Grambling, and his father, Lee, played under the late Robinson and then was a graduate assistant under him before embarking on a long, successful coaching career. Fobbs even draws some of his coaching philosophies from the Huxtable family unit while watching reruns of "The Cosby Show." If it works, it works.

He is being judged this offseason by the way he is bringing Grambling back from its struggles. He's pleased with the work of his coaching staff and how the players appear committed toward improvement.

Ultimately, though, Fobbs will be judged by success on the field as well as off it. He's learned from various coaches since he departed "Coach Rob" - the late Eddie Robinson for whom he was a running back and two-time team captain.

Fobbs' other coaching influences - outside Dr. Huxtable - have included head coaches from some of his former schools, Jerry Baldwin at Louisiana-Lafayette, Scott Stoker at Northwestern State and Matt Viator at McNeese State.

There likely isn't a quick fix for Fobbs at Grambling. Linebacker Steve Orisakwe was the team's only all-conference player (second team) last season, so Fobbs and his team need to keep restocking the talent base.

Quarterback D.J. Williams, son of the fired Doug Williams, will be a senior this year, having started as a freshman in 2011 when the Tigers won the SWAC championship. But he's been up and down throughout his career and is battling to be the starting signal caller with Johnathan Williams, who held the job late last season.

Still, what the team went through last year is bound to pull the players together this year, and there are building blocks with running backs Jestin Kelly and Cedric Skinner, wide receivers Chester Rogers and Anthony McGhee, offensive tackle Anthony Cherry, defensive end Donovan McCray and safety Nicholas Peoples.

Fobbs has stressed conditioning during the offseason for a style of play in which the Tigers will try to score points quickly on offense and be aggressive to create stops and turnovers on defense.

But their self-described "homebody" of a head coach faces a 12-game regular- season schedule that has Grambling playing on campus only three times, and not until the seventh game on Oct. 11. The Tigers open their schedule on Aug. 30 at Lamar.

"I think me being from this area and understanding the history of Grambling State University goes a long way," Fobbs said. "And then also, with my experiences as a college football coach and also coaching on the middle school level, high school level, all the way up, I think it helps me to deal with rebuilding a program. With the coaches that we have in place, I think it's going to be a great situation for me.

"We focused on becoming disciplined and doing things on and off the field the correct way - going to class, going to study hall and then working hard in the weight room. Those kids have done that. And then we got on the practice field for 15 days and worked extremely hard on the practice field and the coaches coached hard. We did a lot and did a great job of doing that this spring.

"We still want to be the type of program that's very disciplined and doing things the right way. We feel if we play extremely hard and play with great discipline, you'll win more than you'll lose."

Fobbs says everything happens for a reason - even a fractured season like Grambling's a year ago.

In tough times, the Tigers' new head coach is preaching, come opportunities to spring to successful situations.

And his new/old school is hopeful of that.

"Grambling is a great institution, it's a great place, we've always been trendsetters here at Grambling State University," Fobbs said. "It's just about re-establishing what we have and we've been to so many people and so many families."