The Retirement Roast for Les Robinson on Thursday night at The Citadel was a testament to one man's amazing career and the hundreds of friendships he made along the way.
As the only man to serve as head basketball coach and athletic director at three colleges — The Citadel, East Tennessee State and N.C. State — Robinson was honored and skewered by some of his biggest admirers in the world of collegiate athletics during a dinner at McAlister Field House.
A native of St. Albans, W.Va., Robinson played at N.C. State, coached The Citadel from 1974 to 1985 and East Tennessee from 1985 to 1990 before returning to his alma mater to coach the Wolfpack in the wake of a cheating scandal.
Admired for his integrity, sense of humor and humanity, Robinson is respected by everyone he has come in contact with on this athletic journey through life, on and off the court.
Robinson will officially retire as athletic director at the military school at the end of this month, ending a career that everyone in the business envies, not for the wins and losses, but for the many relationships and the respect he earned at every stop.
On a night like this, however, some of his friends took the opportunity to tell some of their favorite Les Robinson stories:
Why not West Virginia?
--Roy Williams, head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina: "When I was coaching at Kansas, Les was the athletic director at N.C. State. He called me one day about being the new basketball coach of the Wolfpack. I told him he had to be crazy, that the N.C. State people would run him out of town for bringing a UNC guy in to coach the Wolfpack. He just grinned and said, not as long as you win, big fella, not as long as you win."
--Bobby Cremins, head basketball coach at the College of Charleston: "Les is always telling everybody what a great son of West Virginia he is. Well, if he's so great, how come he never got hired to coach a team in West Virginia?"
--Richard Johnson, athletic director at Wofford College and former player and assistant coach for Robinson at The Citadel: "When I coached under Les he taught me to take the USA Today basketball rankings, start at the bottom and work our way up trying to schedule teams that we could beat. So when I left The Citadel and took the head coaching job at Wofford, I'm only there a week and Les called me from East Tennessee wanting to schedule a game. I said, Oh Lord, coach, am I that bad?"
Cowboy hats and sneakers
--Terry Holland, athletic director at East Carolina, former head coach at Virginia: "Les loves to talk about college athletics, even when everybody else has gone to bed. One night he and Tom Jernstedt (Sr. VP NCAA) and Lee Fowler (current N.C. State AD) stayed up a little late one night in Phoenix at the Fiesta Frolic, and they ended up with cowboy hats on and getting their picture taken at somebody else's party. His wife Barbara has those pictures and reminds him about staying out too late with the wrong crowd."
--Eric Hyman, athletic director at the University of South Carolina and former assistant to Robinson: "Les and I used to play tennis and he could never beat me. So he always tried to play psychological games with me and was always challenging me to ridiculous bets. Once he bet me some Converse shoes, because he had a contract with Converse. Well, I won the bet and he sent me a pair used sneakers. What a guy."
--Barbara Robinson, Les' beautiful wife: "Typical Les, at his retirement press conference a few months ago, he recognized everybody in the gymnasium that day, including the president, the academic advisors and the trainers - everybody but his wife. Coach Cremins had to remind him to recognize me."
--Dr. Harvey Schiller, former president of the U.S. Olympic Committee: "I'm currently chairman of GlobalOptions Group, we do investigations and security work. So I did a deep background check on Les and we found some strange things that people said about him - like he always looks wrinkled and he's difficult to understand. But there were no bankruptcies and only a few speeding violations. However, we did find some suspicious things in his background, you know, like you'd find with anybody from West Virginia."
--My personal favorite was when Les took over as AD at The Citadel in 2000. I was interviewing him and asked him about the biggest difference between being athletic director at a big school like N.C. State and being athletic director at a small military school. He said, 'I can answer that in just two words — TV.' I said, coach, television is one word. He said, 'Ah, hell, Ken, you know what I mean.' "
For more than 40 years, we all knew what Les meant, even if he didn't.
Reach Ken Burger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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