Nov. 11, 2004
By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer
Tell Dennis your opinion!

This doesn't seem like a John Robinson team. Certainly not one most of us remember.

One quarterback is the worst in the nation in pass efficiency among the 100 rated by the NCAA. The other is 93rd. What was once "Student Body Right" is averaging less than 200 rushing yards per game. Only three teams in the country have more turnovers. Three times JR's squad has given up at least 42 points this season.

John Robinson's second stint at USC ('93-97) was solid, but not nearly as successful as his first. (Getty Images)
It's not the way he would have preferred to go out as UNLV's coach, but what the heck? The legendary Southern California and Los Angeles Rams coach wasn't looking for a flashy sendoff anyway. Please stow the rocking chairs, handshakes and retirement parties.

"How many of those goddamn things have you been to in your life?" Robinson said. "Then the administration takes over and they have (bad) food instead of good food. You can't have any wine or vodka."

Robinson, 69, has two games left in what will be a 362-game head coaching career counting USC, UNLV and the NFL. Retirement in Phoenix with his beloved wife, Linda, awaits. In this of age of Urban legends, in-season firings and coaching's "Next Big Thing," it's OK to admire Robinson's old-school ways.

He was Pete Carroll before Pete Carroll, only in reverse going from college to pro. Robinson was 78-73 with the Rams from 1983-91 before returning to USC from 1993-97.

He did what Steve Spurrier couldn't, or wouldn't, do -- go home again.

In his second stint with the Trojans, Robby was 37-21-2 from 1993-97. Maybe it's a good thing Spurrier didn't pull the trigger again on the Fun 'N' Gun. USC fans refer to his two coaching eras as Robinson I (67-14, including a national championship, from 1976-82) and Robinson II (one Rose Bowl in five years).

Robinson's Coaching Record
Years School/Team Record Pct
'76-82 Southern Cal 67-14-2 .807
'83-91 L.A. Rams (NFL) 79-74 .516
'93-97 Southern Cal 37-21-2 .617
'99-04 UNLV 28-40 .412
"I would just tell him this," Robinson said before Spurrier took his name out of the running at Florida. "Don't assume anything."

He is the Paterno opposite, knowing when to step away.

"Us old guys aren't doing so good right now," Robinson said. "Joe Gibbs, Parcells, maybe; Paterno. Mike Price is our hero right now."

When it seems that half the schools are about to lose a coach and the other half is busy hiring one, Robinson represents a certain stability lost. What sets him apart from a lot of today's coaches is that he is leaving with his dignity and record intact.

He came to Vegas in 1999 thinking it could be a sleeping giant. Mostly, it was just sleeping.

But Robby did prop the program up when it was at rock bottom. Robinson has been to one bowl game and is 28-40 in his time with the Rebels. They are 2-7 this season. That doesn't diminish his accomplishments. He did stop a 16-game losing streak and tie a school record by having four players drafted in 2002.

Not bad for what turned out to be a retirement job.

The announcement of his retirement in September was prompted, at least in part, by Linda's fragile health. He will leave after games against Colorado State and San Diego State this month for the good life, head held high.

Here are his parting views on coaching life.

On USC: "If you look at SC football in a historical perspective, they've played with a kind of enthusiasm and fun. My teams were that way. John McKay's teams were that way. Pete Carroll's teams just ooze of that enthusiasm. They've got something special there.

"You can't get that Middle America discipline there. You gotta have guys that are kind of loose and like living in the city."

"Carroll's done kind of what we used to do. There are kind of three national recruits (they go after), maybe four. The rest were local guys. He got them. UCLA has been shut down."

On playing quarterback and tossing the ball in practice like Pete Carroll: "My problem was, I was such a great athlete I'd embarrass them."

On the pressure on coaches to win: "I heard on the radio where the second-most hated man in Miami is Fidel Castro, the first is Dave Wannstedt. Most hated? My God, you can say incompetent or screwed up but hated? Holy cow, some idiot will try to shoot him."

What kind of job is UNLV for the next coach? "It's an OK job. There's not a lot of money. We're a basketball school. Basketball will have a resurgence (under coach Lon Kruger) which may give us some more money. We're all looking at this Utah thing. If they get in (the BCS) it would be $1 million for each Mountain West school. Everybody is kind of holding their breath here.

"We could have beat (Utah). That's why we lost to them so they would have a chance."

Will you have input in the new coach? "The athletic director Mike Hamrick wants to pick the guy. I don't think he wants my shadow over it. They need to hire a guy that this is a dream come true for the guy. There is a lot of recruiting work to do."

What about Rick Neuheisel? His name has come up: "I don't think the guy's name is going to mean that much at this point. Neuheisel is a great recruiter. That would be his value. Neuheisel might want to rent, rather than buy."

On getting out at the right time: "How the hell can he (Paterno) keep doing that for that many years at that same place, that same little town? There's a certain mentality there. There's some sadness. Don Shula, Tom Landry, Woody Hayes, there aren't many guys that go out with a parade."