Broderick Fobbs was built for this.
The son of a football coach and former Grambling running back, Fobbs’ pedigree and upbringing speaks for itself. Talk to a few of his Tigers teammates from the 1990s, though, and they’ll say the 38-year-old first-year head coach showed his signs early.
“He has always been a very focused and solid guy,” Grambling tight ends coach Kendrick Nord said. “When other guys were going around, hanging out, he was always doing the right thing. He was always solid … a very polished player.”
Nord, a former quarterback and teammate, now joins Fobbs back on the practice field in a new capacity. The two share the same optimistic vision for the future and fleeting feelings of the catastrophic 2013 season that garnered unwanted national attention and shook the program to its core.
Player boycotts, reports of dilapidated facilities, coaching upheaval, administrative quarrels and an iconic scene of two empty charter busses that were never boarded for a soon-to-be forfeited game against Jackson State are all that remain from that 1-11 season.
Then a tight ends coach at McNeese State, Fobbs said he knew his alma mater was struggling, but he refused to pass judgement. When the school approached him about taking over and picking up the pieces, Fobbs fielded the same question from reporters, confidants and onlookers: What about the pressure?
“What’s more pressure, shooting a free throw shot with two seconds left on the clock or shooting a half-court shot?” Fobbs asked. “In my opinion, this was shooting a half-court shot. Not much pressure in shooting a half-court shot. When mama calls, you gotta go home.”
Fobbs quickly assembled a staff of SWAC veterans, including Nord and offensive coordinator Eric Dooley, mixed with other experienced assistants focused on recruiting the players’ needs.
The first order of business? Expunge any thoughts of 2013 and correct the habits most players had grown accustomed to in the past few seasons.
“We made a vow to stay away from anything that actually happened (in 2013),” Fobbs said. “There were kids trying to do too much, trying to cover up other flaws and other mistakes that were made. We were trying to get them to understand it’s a team game, your responsibility is your responsibility and your job is also to trust your teammate.”
The road was undeniably rocky in the beginning, leading to a 47-0 loss to Houston on Sept. 6 in which the Tigers committed 15 penalties for 147 yards, ran their mouths after plays and played the undisciplined style of football Fobbs sought to eradicate when he took over
After a week of tough love from the staff, Fobbs took his team to Bethune-Cookman and saw marked improvement in a 36-23 defeat. It was after the game, though, when he walked into the locker room and saw players crying that Fobbs realized it had made a breakthrough.
“That told me they’re playing from within and they’re starting to get it,” Fobbs said. “If we can build off that, we have a chance.”
“Playing from within” is Fobbs’ favorite phrase, a mantra he has brought to the Tigers and cultivated from his father, Lee. The word “win” takes a different definition under the philosophy, focusing on what’s important now instead of strictly statistics and scores.
“It’s the mindset of being objective driven, not goal-driven,” Fobbs said. “You do set a goal, but day by day, minute by minute, hour by hour is what we focus on. Whatever that task we’re doing at that particular time, we’re making sure we’re doing that to the best of our ability.”
So far, it has worked. Since the Bethune-Cookman loss, the Tigers have rattled off five consecutive SWAC victories, good enough for sole possession of first place in the conference — a remarkable turnaround even Fobbs admitted he couldn’t have predicted.
“I’m not surprised, but I’m not going to say I knew it would happened either,” he said. “All spring long, I looked position by position and I thought we had some talent. I thought the whole key was football IQ, developing that talent physically and getting them to play inside out.”
One of his old teammates had no doubts.
“These guys really believe that they can win,” Nord said. “He has really instilled that inside these guys that losing is not an option. It’s all about winning here at Grambling. We’re bringing that old tradition back.”