GRAMBLING, La. -- In a lesser known period of the late football coach Eddie Robinson's long career, he once coached the Grambling State women's basketball team.
On Saturday, the 91st anniversary of Robinson's birth, the old gym took on new life as an 18,000-square-foot museum honoring Robinson's life and his 55 years as Grambling's coach.
"The great thing is that this has happened to a great American," said Wilbert Ellis, who coached the Grambling baseball team for 43 years and was a driving force behind the museum.
On a gray, cold day, with patches of snow lingering in trees and on the ground, hundreds of dignitaries, former players, coaches and fans waited for the first view of the museum, even as workers scrambled to complete displays.
The son of a sharecropper and house keeper, Robinson, who died in 2007, turned Grambling into a household name. He won 408 football games and had 45 winning seasons, even if the impact he made off the field is what left a lasting impression on so many people.
Brian Kelly, who became the Notre Dame coach in December, said Robinson had been a role model for many and for many reasons, citing an 80 percent graduation rate among his players.
"In a cynical profession, where so many are always looking for the next job, all Coach Rob cared about was the next young man," Kelly said.
Robinson was more interested in how his athletes succeeded in life than in the games he coached, although he was demanding on the field, said Lenora D. Miller, 76, who was coached in basketball by Robinson.
"When we traveled for a game, if there was a cultural or educational event going on, we went to it," the retired teacher recalled. "Coach wanted us to get as much out of life as possible."
Talk about a museum for Robinson began decades ago.
"We never thought it would take three governors, three secretaries of state and numerous members of the committee to make this come true," said museum committee co-chairman Douglas Porter.
In the meantime, the awards, plaques, pictures and memorabilia were building up. They were jammed under beds and into closets of the rambling house where Robinson and his wife Doris lived. More were stuffed in a backyard shed. Some was in storage facilities and two tractor-trailers.
"I want it to be somewhere people can see it," Doris Robinson said after her husband's death in 2007.
The beautifully renovated museum doors open on a rotunda. In the center is a life-size bronze statue of Robinson, holding a football. Around him are depictions of his 88-year life.
Another section is covered with pictures of the more than 200 players Robinson sent on to professional football careers. Trophies crowd showcases, plaques and awards are everywhere.
"This all came out of a promise I made Rob before he died," Ellis said. "I told him we'd get this done, but sometimes even I wondered how."
Ellis and a group of friends raised $300,000 toward the museum, and in 2008 the Louisiana Legislature came up with the rest of the $4.2 million. Construction began in early 2009.
"This is a great day for our family," Eddie Robinson Jr. said Saturday. Robinson's widow, Doris, 91, did not attend because of the weather.
"Don't worry, she'll see it very soon," he said.