J's full circle
Coach J Robinson and the Gophers face a familiar, formidable rival Sunday as the U marks his 25 years of service
Updated: 02/19/2011 12:22:14 AM CST
Back in the 1960s, J Robinson was a member of the University of Iowa wrestling team that won 84 consecutive dual meets. He also was on the team when the streak was broken.
Iowa, currently ranked second in the nation, has a string of 76 consecutive dual-meet wins. If the University of Minnesota beats the Hawkeyes on Sunday at Williams Arena, Robinson will be on hand to see that streak snapped.
Robinson, 64, is the Gophers' wrestling coach. He wrestled at Iowa and coached there before coming to Minnesota in 1986. If the No. 5-ranked Gophers were to end the Hawkeyes' latest winning streak, it would be a big deal.
But there's added significance to Sunday because it is the day the university chose to honor Robinson for his 25 years as Minnesota's coach. During that time, he has led the Gophers to three national team championships and has had 12 wrestlers win individual national titles.
I talked to Robinson about his quarter century with the Gophers.
BS: Any plans to coach another 25 years?
JR: Yeah. (Smiles.) I'm trying to beat Joe Paterno. (Paterno, 84, has been the head football coach at Penn State since 1966.)
BS: Does it seem like you've been at Minnesota for a quarter of a century, or has time gone flying by?
JR: It doesn't seem like 25 years. It's amazing how everyone makes a big deal about it. I don't think about it much.
BS: Do you think about some of the highlights of the past 25 years?
JR: They're doing
this poster. And what they came up for the poster was all these pictures of me. That's really not what it's about. It's about Chad Kraft, who was the first four-time All-American. It's about the 2001 team that won the national title. It's about the 1994 team that beat Oklahoma State and Iowa in one week. It's about the '87 team that was my first team; it was 0-8. Those are the things, when you string them together, it makes you think back to the things that happened and how they happened. And you don't think a lot about it because you live in the present. This week, we have to worry about Iowa. There's always something on your mind. There's never a lot of time to reflect on where you've been, but that's all right.
BS: Do you know how much longer you want to coach? Do you want to get to 30 years, 35 years, or is it that when the time comes it will just hit you and you'll know?
JR: I'll just walk in one day and tell 'em I'm done. There are other things I'd like to do, things that are interesting to me. There are other things about helping people. That becomes a great deal once you get some success.
BS: Are you talking about politics?
JR: No. It's just different things to help people, helping younger people and helping other people who can use a boost somewhere along the line to do something in their life they want to do. I've always had a lot of interests outside of wrestling. Wrestling has been the center thing that allows me to spin off and do other things that are of interest to me.
BS: You recently signed a multiyear contract. You have been going year to year since you started at Minnesota. Why a multiyear deal now?
JR: It's really not been a big deal to me. It just seemed like something to do. I think everybody is making a bigger deal than it is.
BS: Was it stressful not having anything more than a year-to-year arrangement for all those years?
JR: I never really worried about. If people want to get rid of you, they're going to get rid of you, contract or not. If you do your job and you do a good job, most of the time people will keep you around.
BS: Is this team one that can get you that next national championship?
JR: This is a good team. They're starting to believe. We talked at the beginning of the year how they have to believe in themselves and when they do, things will start changing. My wife, Sue, after the Penn State match, said, "One of the things I've noticed since December is the way they look at themselves. They carry themselves a little different. That confidence is coming." That will really be a big deal when we get to the Big Ten and national tournament. That's the thing that can make all the difference in the world.
BS: Now is a good time to start showing it.
JR: Oh, yeah. But it takes awhile to get to that point. Everybody wants to jump from A to D, and they don't go through B and C. But B and C are important. I've always been fascinated by David and Goliath. You've got a slingshot against this big, gigantic guy. Tom Lamphere, who works with the Vikings and is kind of our resident chaplain here with our team, said the interesting part is that it just didn't happen like that. He said that up until that time, as a shepherd, David had killed a bear and a lion, so he had gained that confidence. So he did B and C before he got to D.
BS: You don't hear about B and C in the David and Goliath story.
JR: You don't hear about B and C, but B and C are critical to get to D. So I think the team is getting better and better and I think they're believing more and more, and they're doing what they have to do. And it's fun watching them grow, wrestling-wise and in all the other things they do. I laughingly tell people my life is like (the movie) "Groundhog Day." You get these kids at 18, and I only deal with kids whose problems are between 18 and 23 and it never changes. I don't get all wigged out. They're going to some mistakes. They're going to do stupid stuff. They're going to make some poor choices. But they're going to go through the process and then, they're going to get to be 23, and they're going to get spit out the other side. And they're going to end up being great employees and great workers and great husbands and great dads. This is the way it works. So it's fun being in that environment.