Last Modified: Monday, June 30, 2014 1:14 PM
For Broderick Fobbs, Grambling State is family, and when family calls you come running.
Especially when the family is hurting.
Grambling football was more than hurting last fall, it was teetering on the brink of extinction.
The once-proud program that had received more than its share of national attention over the years was back in the spotlight, but not for a good reason.
The historically black university that gave us legendary Eddie Robinson as a head coach and produced pro football Hall of Famers Willie Brown, Buck Buchanan and Lake Charles’ Charlie Joiner was in total chaos.
Grambling even had to forfeit a game to Jackson State after players exercised a walkout last fall. First they refused to practice and then play until the conditions surrounding the program where improved.
They cited poor conditions in the locker room, with equipment and even being forced to endure harsh travel conditions. Those consisted of long bus rides without meals while other schools at Grambling’s level were flying to games.
The trouble boiled over the week of Jackson State’s homecoming game. The rest of the season, in fact the future of the program, was in question.
The Tigers finished 2013 just 1-11.
Former school standout Doug Williams was fired as the head coach just two games into last season. His firing came more over a dispute of some $32,000 than anything happening on the field.
A pair of booster groups, made up mostly of former players, had raised the money and intended it to be used to repair the floor in the Grambling weight room, which was torn and coming apart.
However, university President Frank G. Pogue told the groups the money was going into the school’s main foundation to be distributed to other areas.
Essentially, Pogue was kicking the school’s past football greats to the curb while happily grabbing their cash for his use. The president said NCAA regulations would not allow the school to put it directly into football.
Williams was fired after disagreeing with the president’s decision.
Pogue announced his retirement in April. His last day is Monday.
All of which seems to be perfect timing for Fobbs, who wants to give Grambling a fresh start.
“I’m excited,” said Fobbs. “This is a great university and has a great football tradition. We have a new president coming in and the team has a new attitude.
“Grambling was once a great football program and it can be again.”
The 39-year-old Fobbs takes over the Tigers after spending last season as an assistant coach at McNeese State in charge of tight ends. He was with the Cowboys for five years before that as co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach before spending the 2012 campaign on the staff of Southern Mississippi.
He was back in Lake Charles Saturday, speaking to a group of Grambling alum and fans at Lydia’s Event Center. The event was the G-Men Gathering in honor of Richard H. Lee Jr., a former Tigers captain who passed away in December of 2010.
“It is good to be back here,” said Fobbs, who seems at home while talking about Grambling football. “McNeese was great to me.”
He even mentioned how maybe in the future the two schools might play a game here.
That is down the road. For now, Fobbs is focused on getting Grambling back to where he says it belongs.
SDLqWe continue to be a work in progress but we know we are headed in the right direction,” Fobbs said. “It will take time. There is a lot of work to be done, but I think we have the people in place who are willing to do that work.”
Fobbs, a second-generation Grambling player under Robinson, was a running back at the school and a two-time captain. He graduated in 1997. With both his parents graduates of the school, he clearly has Tiger blood running through him.
It is why, despite the obstacles, he was willing to accept the challenge.
“I look at Grambling as if it is a sick grandmother or grandfather,” he said. “You come home to help them get better and you don’t leave until grandma is fine. That’s what I mean by it being like family.”
Fobbs said getting the players on board has been the easy part.
“They were ready to move on from the problems of last year,” he said, noting that the dozen or so who left the program had decided to do so before he took the job.
“Last year was tough for these kids. They had to go through a lot and make tough choices, but things are getting better and they see that.”
Fobbs knows he has to be the one to show them the way.
“You have to tell them that you are here for the long haul, that you would not be here if you didn’t think things could get better,” he said. “You have to convince them by your work and giving them your vision of the future.”
As for the relationship between the football program and school officials, Fobbs says it is also a work in progress but getting better as well.
“We have a new president coming in and we all want the same thing, a strong football team at Grambling,” he said.
To do so Fobbs wants to bring back the tradition while building for the future.
“There has been a gap between the Gramblinites of the past and the Gramblinites of the present,” Fobbs said. “We need to bridge that gap.”
One way of doing so, he believes, is events like the one Saturday, when past players come together to remember the program’s greatness and spread the word of Grambling football.
“Seeing all these Grambling folks come out to support the school is great,” Fobbs said. “It is what we need. We are all hoping for the same thing.”
That is a return to the glory days of Grambling football.
“I know what Grambling once was,” Fobbs said. “I know what it can be if we are willing to pay the price.
“Once we were one of the top programs at our level in college football. I want to get Grambling back to that place again.”
Fobbs feels he has no other choice, after all it’s family.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org