Robinson reflects fondly on career at East Tennessee

By Seth Bartee

Special Correspondent

   As the game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Syracuse Orangemen came to a close Monday, I thought about opportunity, luck and loss.
Kansas coach Roy Williams was crying after the game, it's almost a sure possibility that he will be leaving the Jayhawks after this season. Already speculation is raised on whether he may take over the North Carolina Tar Heels next year.
His emotion reminded me of another successful coach who left for the Tar Heel state after the 1990 season.
The coach was none other than Les Robinson, the North Carolina native who led the Buccaneers to two NCAA tournament berths.
In 1989 Robinson took a 16 seed ETSU team and only lost to one seed Oklahoma 72-71.
The first round of the 1990 version of the NCAA tournament for the Bucs was held in Knoxville, where Robinson and team had gained a 13 seed against Dennis Scott and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
ETSU lost 99-83 -- still not bad for a small basketball school located in the mountains of Tennessee.
Although he would then take over as coach at N.C. State, Robinson had laid the foundation for more Buccaneer success.
I came home from school in 1991 to watch Calvin Talford and his teammates lose a squeaker to Iowa, 76-73. It was not really a loss for the Bucs, just another chance to show ETSU pride and lower bracket strength.
Then in 1992 it happened. Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats were shocked at their foe, a 14 seed who whipped them 87-80. ETSU went on in the second round to face the fab five of Michigan.
The Bucs played a heroic game against a great basketball team but came up short at 102-90 when the clock wound down. That year Michigan went on to face Duke in the championship game in Indianapolis in the fifth largest attended final in NCAA tourney history.
Back to Coach Robinson, who is now the athletic director at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. I met up with him during the beginning of the tournament and he had nothing but good things to say about his time in Johnson City.
Robinson said: "I loved my years at ETSU. I enjoyed them immensely."
"I liked Johnson City because it was near where I grew up in North Carolina," said Robinson on one of his reasons to coach at ETSU.
When I asked Robinson what essentials he needed to build a powerhouse, he automatically pointed to his assistant coaches.
"The assistant coaches would lay out the plans and then I would make the final decision," replied Robinson.
He also said that his assistant coaches drew great recruits while he taught them the fundamentals.
After Robinson, student attention to the basketball program has been waning. Robinson said in order to draw out the students he "would talk to any student group that would listen. You have no success without the student body."
Not only did he build good relationships with the students but also with his players.
The coach still sees his old players and he said he's still in contact with most of them.
"Tell ETSU I'm proud of them and I want to congratulate Coach DeChellis and his staff," said a smiling Robinson at the Bucs showing in the tournament.
Robinson is still active in NCAA basketball as he is now on the committee. But he said he is still remembered for his time at ETSU, not being part of the powerful NCAA committee.
I'm happy to say that Coach Robinson looked well and was in great spirits when I interviewed him.
Robinson is a legend in his own right and will always be remembered for his glory days when basketball players stayed all four years and the mini-dome could not hold his crowds.