NEW ORLEANS — Of the near-tragic events that transpired on a Sunday morning in late June, Edna Karr High basketball coach Bill Robinson still recalls absolutely “no details.”
About to sit down at a New Orleans fast-food restaurant to enjoy his customary cup of coffee and a Sunday newspaper, Robinson was suddenly floored by a massive heart attack. Fortunately, this particular McDonald’s was located in close proximity to Touro Hospital, where Robinson was rushed in the gravest of conditions. Upon arrival, the doctors and staff at Touro worked feverishly to save his life.
“He actually died and they brought him back,” said Karr athletic director Roch Weilbaecher, who has been a basketball assistant and close friend to Robinson for 24 years. “He was in an induced coma for almost three weeks.”
Although Robinson, 63, did not require surgery, he did undergo cardiac rehabilitation two days a week along with extensive medication. A labyrinth of tubes hovered over the Karr coach for weeks, providing him with medication and nourishment. Once a robust 300 pounds, he weighed just 150 pounds upon his release.
“I do remember waking up a few hours later (after the attack),” Robinson said, his voice today at a higher pitch. “And I saw some nurses. At first I did not know what had happened. But when they told me, I really was not scared. I got real good care there.”
Robinson, who now moves about with the aid of a walker, has the goal to soon be moving with just the assistance of a cane. And he wants to attend some of the Cougars’ home basketball games this season — although Robinson, an East Bank resident who is single, will have to commandeer a ride to the West Bank school to see the Cougars compete.
Karr, which opened as a junior high in 1964, did not join the Louisiana High School Athletic Association until 1990. Robinson has coached the high school for 22 years and the school for 33 seasons. He has compiled a career record of 388-296 with seven district championships. During his tenure, the Cougars have played in the state Top 28 Tournament finals five times, capturing three state championships, including the 1994 title. On that 36-4 squad of ’94 was an All-State standout named Taurus Howard, whom school officials have named as the interim head coach for the 2012-13 season. Carl Antoine, a 2004 graduate, has also been named as a Cougars assistant.
Howard weathers an ambitious schedule these days since he also serves as the football team’s defensive coordinator. He coaches outdoors with young men in pads and cleats from the close of school until 6:30 and then moves indoors with young men in shorts and sneakers from 6:30 to 8:30.
“Being named head basketball coach in this way, I have mixed emotions,” said Howard. “I would never have wanted it to happen this way, with what happened to coach Robinson. But if someone has to be his successor, then I want it to be somebody who will do him proud because he has molded me into what I am today. I played biddy basketball for coach Rob when I was 8 and 9 years old, so when I got here to the varsity, I was a veteran. And I am looking forward to coaching.”
Howard has coached at Karr 12 years — exactly half of the time spent there by Weilbaecher, who coached AAU basketball with Robinson, who then convinced his assistant to join the Karr staff when Weilbaecher was on staff at Rummel.
“To see how far he has come since his (hospital) release, it is miraculous,” said Weilbaecher. “His strength as a coach is that he doesn’t say a lot but what he says is on point. I don’t know of anyone who is better when it comes to dealing with the kids. And we are the best of friends.”
But his best friend has to remain realistic about Robinson’s future.
“I knew coach Rob wants to get back here and see games and sit on the bench and he wants to be using a cane as soon as he can but we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Weilbaecher.
And what will be the biggest difference this season without the affable, well-liked fixture from Karr?
Weilbaecher noted: “There will be one less voice of reason on the bench.”
On Nov. 26, Karr opened its basketball season against East Jefferson with someone other than Bill Robinson as head coach for the first time since 1978 — a lengthy span of 684 games. But the void will be a short-lived one.
Robinson was back Wednesday, watching the Cougars as a spectator for their CYO Tournament opener.