Robinson enjoys magic of No. 800
Past and present players key in mentor’s reflections on milestone
Winning 800 games in a coaching career isn’t something that is easily brushed to the side and forgotten. You can’t ignore it like a lazy student ignores homework.
Yet as the remarkable milestone peeked over the horizon, Franklin & Marshall head coach Glenn Robinson wasn’t paying attention.
His only concern was an early February road game against Centennial Conference rival Gettysburg, and like all great coaches, Robinson wanted to make sure his team was prepared for another big game.
“It wasn’t something I put a lot of thought into,” Robinson said of reaching 800 wins. “The main thing on my mind was making sure we were ready to play against Gettysburg. It was a big game against one of our rivals.”
Robinson had his team ready to go, and like he had done 799 times before in his career, he guided the Diplomats to another win. Franklin & Marshall shook off a slow start and rolled to a 68-46 win against the Bullets, another stride for a team determined to win a conference championship and build momentum for the NCAA Division III Tournament.
There was a point, however, near the end of the game when Robinson began to absorb the magic of the moment. He had every right to do so. This was his 1,100th game as a head coach and while this was without a doubt his night to savor, he took more enjoyment in watching his players bask in the spotlight.
“It was more exciting to see the team react the way [they] did,” Robinson said. “They had a banner for me and held it up after the game. My success is a credit to the players, both the past and present.”
Robinson has probably forgotten more about basketball than most of us will ever know. He has been coaching the Diplomats since 1971 and has turned Franklin & Marshall into one of the elite programs in DIII basketball.
It seemed unlikely that it would ever happen. This was a school that made losing a habit in the 1960s and no one probably thought a young assistant out of West Chester University in Pennsylvania would go on to become one of the greatest coaches of all time.
Robinson joined Chuck Taylor's staff in 1968. Three years later, Robinson was the head coach. He won only 18 games in his first two season combined, but by the end of his third year, the Diplomats were 13-11, snapping a string of eight consecutive losing seasons.
“I was very fortunate to be in the situation that I was in,” Robinson said. “We were able to get some good players right away and improved each year. I was able to get the players to buy into my system and potential players began seeing the program as a place to go because they would have a chance to win.”
Robinson never imagined he would be at Franklin & Marshall 40 years later. At the time, it seemed like more of a stepping stone to a better opportunity. But as time went on, he realized he was at a special place and did everything he could to make himself the best coach he could be.
Talking with a couple of coaching legends certainly helped that cause.
“I was able to talk with John Wooden and Dean Smith and get a little advice,” Robinson said. “They were both great coaches and I wanted to emulate them.”
The advice paid off. Robinson has the most wins of any coach in DIII history and is fifth all time among active NCAA coaches.
His success has translated into 21 NCAA Tournament appearances for the Diplomats, including five trips to the Final Four, and 15 conference championships. He has also coached 15 All-Americans and has been named the National Association of Basketball Coaches Coach of the Year 12 times.
As great as those accomplishments are, there is something he has cherished more along the road to becoming only the 13th coach in NCAA history to win at least 800 games.
“Getting 800 wins has allowed me to get back in touch with a lot of my former players,” Robinson said. “I’ve received a lot of phone calls and they are all happy for me. Hearing from the players means a lot to me. It’s been a distraction because we still have games to play, but it’s been a good distraction.”
The excitement of the moment has died down, allowing Robinson to get back to coaching his team. The Diplomats have won their last 10 games and seem poised for a deep postseason run.
Franklin & Marshall will wrap up the regular season Saturday when it battles Dickinson at home. The No. 15 Diplomats are 20-4 overall and 15-2 in league play. The success of the team is not surprising.
“We have a veteran team,” Robinson said. “These guys have gone deep into the tournament and understand what it takes to play at a high level. We know how important it is to be ready to play every night and if you aren’t ready, you are going to be beat.”
No matter what happens from here on out, Robinson is proud of the effort his team has given. He also can’t say enough about the opportunity he has had to coach the Diplomats.
“I have been very lucky,” Robinson said. “To be able to come here right out of school as an assistant and gain valuable experience at a college program is something a lot of coaches don’t get to do. I love being here and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do the rest of the year.”