There is no more difficult test for an athlete than wrestling. If the person across the mat is better than you, there is no place to hide. You are going to take a beating and then have to return to the wrestling room the next day, a harsh place with walls permanently drenched in the odor of sweat, to work for three more hours to improve your skills.
As an outsider, I’ve always looked at wrestling as the sport where there’s no fun. OK, there are a couple of minutes to celebrate after you have pinned or gained a decision over an opponent, but then it’s back to the next sweaty, nasty challenge.
There’s always someone around the corner tougher than you, maybe trying to take your spot in the lineup for the next match, or maybe the guy at your weight coming to town for Penn State, or Iowa, or Oklahoma State.
Even Dan Gable ran into that tougher guy one night.
Wrestling is a sport for hard men and, frequently, hardheaded men, and J Robinson is 100 percent qualified in both categories.
Robinson had spent 30 years coaching and controlling the University of Minnesota wrestling program. On Wednesday, that tenure came to an end when he was terminated as coach by new athletic director Mark Coyle.
We could go through the details of the non-prescribed drugs that permeated the team, but in the end, Robinson has been brought down for the reason most of us figured would be:
When Robinson found out about the Xanax distribution and use within his roster, he apparently told a couple of naive athletic department officials that he could handle it himself. According to Coyle’s letter of termination, Robinson did so by offering amnesty and confidentiality to his athletes.
He was a coach. Just a coach. He should have called the cops.
Except, Robinson did not see it that way. He had controlled Minnesota’s wrestling program for 30 years, and he would control this.
If somehow the information leaked (which it did), Robinson’s trump card was that he had mentioned a drug suspicion to weak-kneed interim athletic director Beth Goetz, and to assistant AD Marc Ryan, and they had acquiesced to him handling it.
From the outside, that comes off as a coverup. In J’s world, he was being noble by protecting his athletes from legal consequences.
And he succeeded: With no evidence and no names or wrestlers being offered, the Hennepin County attorney’s office gave the students a pass and didn’t file charges.
Coyle’s termination letter to Robinson included this sentence: “You have not accepted responsibility or expressed remorse for your conduct.’’
Of course not. Hardheaded people rarely accept responsibility or express remorse.
Wrestling is a hard sport for hardheaded men and J Robinson is one of those … 100 percent.
How hard is this man? A few years back, he had knee replacement surgery that went bad. The doctors had to take out the replacement knee and spend months trying to kill the infection. For a time, J was hobbling around on crutches with a rod holding things together in that knee.
How hard is this man? He was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam. Enough said.
How hard is this man? He was a member of the 1972 Olympic wrestling team. And if those terrorist pigs had run into J Robinson on the way into the Athletes Village, I wouldn’t have bet against him.
Robinson was an assistant at Iowa until being hired at Minnesota for the 1986-87 season. Wally Johnson had been the Gophers coach from the winter of 1952-53.
Wally had a number of great individuals and several good teams, but Minnesota’s longtime commitment to wrestling was demonstrated by this:
Johnson was an assistant coach in football as well in his first 18 years in charge of the wrestling program.
Robinson had a losing team his first winter in Minnesota, and nobody much noticed anything about him except the quirk of using a simple J as his first name.
He pressed forward in the belief he could turn the Gophers into a national contender. He fought the powerhouses for recruits in wrestling rooms around the country, and three times his Gophers became champions of the NCAA: 2001, 2002 and 2007. Those titles were part of an 11-season stretch where the Gophers were third or better nine times in the NCAA championships.
J Robinson was hardheaded and correct in his belief that he could turn Minnesota into a wrestling power. Three decades later, he was hardheaded and wrong when he decided he alone should handle the non-prescribed Xanax situation within his team.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org