Along with Grambling’s now infamous forfeiture, walkout and boycotts last season, Robert Bruno struck the biggest nerve with the venerable program.
Speaking to WWL-TV in June, Bruno — then the commissioner of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District — suggested separating Southern and Grambling’s annual rivalry in the Bayou Classic, wary that Grambling’s struggles in the previous two seasons would lead to decreased attendance and decreased interest.
“If Grambling has fallen off that bad, maybe Southern could take the lead, and it could be an earned-in game and bring in somebody else,” Bruno was quoted in the report. “I just don’t know if Grambling can carry the load.”
Five months later, Grambling is rejuvenated.
New coach Broderick Fobbs has commandeered a turnaround that rivals any in college football in 2014. His Tigers sit 7-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference after combining for two regular season wins in 2012 and 2013 and need only to beat the Jaguars on Saturday to reach the SWAC title game in Houston.
Fobbs, with a staff mixed with SWAC veterans and newcomers, knew his talent was capable, but admits he was unsure if it would translate to success so quickly.
One thing he was always sure of, though: his spot in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was safe.
“I think anyone who mentions about separating Grambling from the Bayou Classic, that’s someone that doesn’t know the history or know anything about Grambling State University,” Fobbs said. “Sure, we went through a tough time, but for someone to say that or mention that, they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Fobbs, who came to Grambling after stints at McNeese State and Southern Miss, said his duties at those schools have prevented him from watching the past few Bayou Classics. In fact, the last Classic he can even remember attending was the 2005 contest that shifted to Houston’s Reliant Stadium after Hurricane Katrina.
Now the coach of his alma mater in a winner-take-all affair that has re-energized the spirited Tigers fans, Fobbs is taking a meticulous, straightforward approach to the game.
“We just want to play a mistake-free football game, or as close to one as we possibly can,” Fobbs said. “Play from the inside out, like we always talk about, with heart, with passion and in our minds.”
Inheriting the aftermath of what some called the darkest days in the Grambling program, Fobbs lured SWAC veteran Terrence Graves to become his associate head coach. The two share an aggressive personality, which has translated on the field.
It helped, though, when the duo arrived to campus and found the players had extensively researched the philosophies, backgrounds and tendencies of the entire staff. It made transitions easier and a mutual respect was quickly manifested.
“Our guys have done a tremendous job,” Graves said. “They came in, bought into coach Fobbs what his philosophy is. These guys bought in wholeheartedly. You see the fruits of their labor and for those guys to do that, it’s a credit to them.”
There are more benchmarks still to accomplish, though.
Graves said the winner-take-all attitude has been prevalent in meetings, on film and on the practice field.
Still, Fobbs maintained the business as usual demeanor. He sees the Bayou Classic as an opportunity to perfect the fundamentals, correct mistakes and enhance the passion Grambling plays with day in and day out.
A passion that, through it all, never wavered.
“Grambling has a winning organization, we’ve always been a winning organization, and we’re fortunate to be in the situation we’re in right now,” Fobbs said. “It’s great, and it says a lot about the two programs, the position we’re in.”