As the football was about to be snapped, Terry Robiskie looked above his flip card of plays, standing several feet behind running back Alfred Blue.
Robiskie watched as Blue burst through a hole, appearing to execute exactly what was expected of him. But Robiskie, 64, still pulled Blue aside before motioning with his hands that he needed to make his cut quicker after clearing the line of scrimmage.
Throughout the Jaguars’ two-hour organized team activity on Tuesday, Robiskie had similar conversations with tailbacks Ryquell Armstead and Thomas Rawls. Brief yet emphatic.
An NFL assistant for 37 years, the fire still burns inside Robiskie, who was hired by Doug Marrone in January to be the team’s running backs coach. Robiskie wants to help players reach their potential, and even exceed expectations. For a team that remains focused on running the ball effectively, Robiskie’s job could be considered one of the most important in the organization.
But make no mistake about the real reason Robiskie is in Jacksonville: to get the most out of Leonard Fournette. Robiskie works closely with each player at the position, but his main task is ensuring Fournette’s dreadful 2018 season, which saw his production and motivation torpedo as the year progressed, is not repeated.
The Jaguars hope Robiskie’s extensive coaching experience and his background as a star running back at LSU in the mid-1970s will help get through to Fournette, a fellow New Orleans native, and salvage what has so far been a trying start to his NFL career.
The course of the franchise could depend on it.
‘HE WAS AMAZING’
Robiskie is a father of three, a husband and is still regarded as a legend in Louisiana. He was one of the state’s first ballyhooed recruits, a larger-than-life talent in the early 1970s.
He easily caught the eyes of college recruiters and Sports Illustrated’s long-running “Faces in the Crowd” segment after he ran 97, 84 and 80 yards for touchdowns on quarterback sneaks in a single game as a high school senior.
As a quarterback, Robiskie led Second Ward High School in Edgard, La., to 33 straight wins and consecutive Class 1A championships in 1971 and 1972. With Robiskie at the helm, the team averaged 41 points per game.
Robiskie, who averaged 12 yards per rushing attempt, ended his high school career with 6,470 total yards and 62 rushing touchdowns. As a senior in 1972, Robiskie ran for 1,471 yards with 22 touchdowns and threw 11 touchdown passes and 958 yards.
No question, he was the big man on a small campus.
“My high school went from the eighth grade to the 12th and there were still only 400 students,” said Robiskie, who made the Parade All-American team for the nation’s top high school players in 1972. “There were only 100 guys in the entire school. The big thing in high school, we had one coach (Rudy Dinvaut). He was the basketball coach, football coach, the baseball coach. And he lived by the motto — if it don’t matter who wins or lose, it’s just how you play the game — then why are you keeping score. Let’s don’t keep score.”
Of course, Robiskie’s team didn’t do much losing.
Gerald Keller, 78, did some of the radio broadcasts of Robiskie’s high school games. In his opinion, there was no one better than Robiskie. Not then. Not now.
“He was amazing,” Keller said. “He was totally worshiped. He walked on water, but he never let any of that go to his head. He was very well respected in the community and outside the community, too. He was just a classy guy.”
Notre Dame offered Robiskie a football scholarship. So did Southern Cal. Oklahoma. Nebraska. UCLA.
But Robiskie wanted to remain close to home. He chose LSU, which only two years earlier signed its first African-American players.
It turned out to be the correct choice.
Robiskie’s name is permanently etched in LSU lore. He became the first running back in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season when he finished with 1,117 yards as a senior in 1976. That season, he was named the Southeastern Conference’s Most Valuable Player as well as being voted first-team All-SEC and first-team Academic All-SEC.
He left as the school’s career rushing leader and is now eighth overall with 2,517 yards. His 31 career rushing touchdowns rank sixth on LSU’s all-time list.
Robiskie was inducted into the Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Louisiana Sports of Hall of Fame in 2012.
‘NOTHING IN LUCY BUT LOVE’
Robiskie’s hometown of Lucy, La., is so tiny that it does not have a red light, police department or post office. But the town, located on the banks of the Mississippi River about 25 miles west of New Orleans, has Terry Court.
It’s a street named in Robiskie’s honor for his football accomplishments. The street was named after him once his NFL career ended, Robiskie said.
“The street has only three houses on it, and there are probably about 800 people in the whole town,” Robiskie said. “It was 30 years ago, I had started coaching then. ... And they called and said they were naming the street after me. I tell people we don’t have nothing in Lucy but love. Everybody loves everybody.”
Robiskie said he doesn’t go back to Lucy as often as he would like. But it’s still home.
The area surrounding Lucy, called the River Parishes, remains fertile ground for blue-chip talent. It’s produced NFL players such as Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, former Washington Redskins cornerback LaRon Landry, former Miami Dolphins linebacker A.J. Duhe, former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Louis Lipps and former New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster. Also hailing from there are current Cleveland Browns receiver Jarvis Landry and Blue, who played together at LSU just before Fournette arrived at the school.
“I’m from Boutte, which is fairly close to where [Robiskie is] from,” Blue said. “People from those towns know each other. Everyone has that competitive nature about them whether it’s playing cards or playing sports. It was always a competition to see who could jump the highest, who can run the fastest or dunk the ball. It’s always somebody trying to get the edge.”
Robiskie says he still has that competitive edge. A week ago, he spoke about finding a fishing hole near TIAA Bank Stadium and vowed not to leave until he caught something.
“I wouldn’t leave till I caught one,” Robiskie said. “I caught two.”
TRIUMPHS AND SETBACKS
Robiskie’s NFL playing career lasted only five seasons with Oakland and Miami before he was forced to retire after a wrist injury in 1982. But Raiders owner Al Davis saw more in Robiskie than his playing skills. During Robiskie’s three seasons in Oakland, Robiskie said Davis took an interest in grooming him to become an eventual coach.
Sure enough, it was Davis that offered him his first coaching job as a special teams assistant in 1982. He was on the Raiders’ coaching staff when they won a Super Bowl in 1984. His NFL coaching journey has been nothing less than miraculous. He’s made the adjustment from smash-mouth, ground attack offenses of the 1980s to the high powered, pass-oriented offenses of today.
Robiskie has been an interim head coach with Washington (2000) and Cleveland (2004) in addition to coaching running backs, tight ends and receivers. He’s been the offensive coordinator with the Raiders, Browns and Tennessee Titans but has been passed over for several head coaching jobs, including LSU in 1995.
Yet no bitterness lingers.
Robiskie had his share of triumphs and setbacks.
“Al Davis took me under his wing, trained me on everything there was to know and everything he felt he needed to teach me about professional football.” Robiskie said. “A lot of years, I pushed hard to try to get myself in position to be a head coach.
“Then after that, it got to a point where I gave up on that idea to just being the best assistant coach I could be. From that assistant coach standpoint, to beat the ... out of everybody I played and everybody I went against.”
Robiskie this year was nominated for the Pro Football Writers of America’s Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award, an accolade that annually recognizes lifetime achievement as an NFL assistant coach.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
When Marrone hired Robiskie in January, it appeared to be an outside-the-box hire. Robiskie hadn’t coached the position since he was the assistant running backs coach with the Raiders in 1985-87. He was the receivers coach last season with the Buffalo Bills, and was lauded for the development of both Julio Jones and Roddy White when he was the Atlanta Falcons receivers coach (2008-15).
The thinking in Jacksonville was Robiskie was brought in to connect with Fournette. There’s little doubt that factored in, but Marrone also said he’s known Robiskie since he was an assistant with the Raiders and noticed the respect he had from the players. Marrone said one of his mentors is former NFL coach Jimmy Raye, who is a close friend of Robiskie.
“You watch what he’s done,” Marrone said of Robiskie. “Interim head coach, he’s coaching receivers and he did well. Then you see and meet him. He’s a great communicator. So it was a no-brainer when we had to go out and find someone. That’s the only I guy I really wanted.”
GETTING TO KNOW FOURNETTE
Robiskie’s success in Jacksonville is going to depend on whether he can get Fournette to return to the level he performed as a rookie when he ran for 1,040 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Last season, Fournette ran for just 439 yards and five touchdowns while missing half the season.
Robiskie said he’s still in the early stages of forming a bond with Fournette.
Fournette was on the field early in OTAs but then left and did not return. He is expected to participate in the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp starting on Tuesday.
No matter how much bonding goes on between the two, Robiskie said there’s such an age difference that Fournette is never going to understand or fathom the hardships he had to endure.
″It’s hard for young kids today — like a Leonard Fournette — to even imagine that when I played at LSU there were only five black (players) in the program when I got there in 1973,” Robiskie said. “It’s hard for him to believe that there were five of us and were only 28 to 30 black students on the campus and they made a rule that we had to date within our race.
“We were told that’s why were so close to Southern University, an all-black campus. I dealt with things that Leonard wouldn’t even phantom.”
Robiskie continued: “Guys like Leonard that went to LSU, who became a superstar, was a hero with 80,000 to 90,000 people cheering for him, it’s hard to envision that. That’s like me trying to have a picture of what happened to my ancestors in the 1920s and ’30s. It was just so many things I had to go through during my time at LSU. It didn’t humble me, it made me tougher.”
Robiskie said if Fournette wants to know about his past, he will gladly share it.
Given where Robiskie has gone and what he’s accomplished, that wouldn’t be a bad idea.