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J Robinson: A Great Coach - An Even Better Person

By AWP , 06/16/16, 5:00PM EDT


Damion Hahn and Gabe Dean in the picture. Thank you to Tony Rotundo

This is from the perspective of Dave Dean. He wrestled for J in the mid to late 1980's.

“There are some folks who manage handling difficult issues by sticking to the principle of the matter.  These are the people who often times won’t do what is right but what is politically expedient.  Great people are focused on doing what is right.  Doing the right thing and doing what is principled many times do not match up.  When you are a leader, it is these moments and the decisions you make that will define you, your body of work, your life.” (Quoting J Robinson 1987)

I remember when J said this to me.  It was after my first year with him.  The lesson didn’t fully sink in with me until years later, until I was responsible for others and, in the dark of night, had to make a difficult decision, deviating from principle because the right thing did not match up.  Sleepless nights, knowing what I had to do.  Many people depending on how I was going to play my role.

I was a young assistant coach at Michigan State University.  We were going in to a massive NCAA investigation that was initiated by another angry assistant coach that was dismissed from duties.  As I navigated through that investigation, J’s words of wisdom were squarely on my mind.

J had set me up with the tools to become a better person.

That is what J does.  He mentored us, gave us the tools to become the people we could and should be.  He set the bar high.

The proof is in his body of work.  Look at all of the men that he has mentored in his life and the difference they are making and have made in the world. Inventors, doctors, cancer research doctors, leaders of companies, leaders of young men etc...

I had a moment this year that brought me incredible happiness and a bit of sadness.  I suppose, nostalgia is a way to describe it.

I was watching the finals of the NCAA Championships.  My son was in the finals.  I had shared with him throughout a lifetime the lessons J had taught me.  In his corner was Damion Hahn (A fellow Minnesota graduate), an exceptional coach and a great example for young men.  Just ask Gabe what kind of man he thinks Damion is.  You see, J was Damion’s coach.  J was my coach.  Damion is Gabe's coach.  Much of what Gabe knows and the person he is becoming has been passed down from J.

J’s legacy and lessons live and will live on, way beyond this stage in life for all of us.

J and men like J are what this world needs now, more than ever.

My point is that in this day and age, with everything we see going on around us, the entitlement attitude of many in this latest generation, the political expediency and selfish behavior that we see in so much of our leadership, those of us who know J, know that he wasn’t doing what was easy or politically expedient to handle a situation.  He was being very moral.  He was simply doing the right thing.