By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State opened its Christmas present a couple days early. It wasn’t an iPad, tablet, gift card or a lump of coal.
Inside was a life-sized head football coach.
His name? Rob Robinson, and he was announced as NSU’s 19th head coach in school history on Thursday.
“I am very excited for the opportunity to take over a program at a great university,” Robinson said in a release from NSU. “I didn’t want to be a head coach just to be a head coach. I wanted to be at a place that has a chance to be successful, and Northeastern State has everything it needs to build a quality program.”
Robinson takes over in Tahlequah where he replaces Kenny Evans, who was relieved of his duties following the RiverHawks’ 45-38 victory over Central Oklahoma on Nov. 16.
A little more than a month later, Tony Duckworth, NSU’s director of athletics, found his guy.
“Rob Robinson was on my short list from the beginning, and once I began having conversations with him it was clear he met the characteristics I sought in our next head football coach,” Duckworth said. “Coach Robinson is a great addition to the NSU family, and he will be an outstanding leader of our football program.”
Leaving Washburn after coaching at the Topeka, Kan., institution for 12 years, Robinson will take the reigns of a team that went 2-9 overall and 2-8 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association in 2013. In two seasons of MIAA play, the RiverHawks posted a combined total of six wins and 14 losses.
“I have coached in the MIAA for 13 years now, and I think that experience has helped give me a great perspective of how to build a successful program at this level. You must have the right model to be successful in this league. You have to recruit the right kind of players and you must have the right kind of coaches that can figure out what the other coordinators in this league are doing,” said Robinson, who was Washburn’s offensive coordinator for the last four seasons. “This conference, from top to bottom, is one of the sharpest that you’re going to play against in terms of collective football minds. We can’t just get better athletes; we’re also going to have to do our due diligence in scouting each and every week to put together game plans that can slow down what the other teams are going to try to do against us.”
In 2013, Washburn’s offense averaged 40.9 points per game, which was third in the MIAA behind only Northwest Missouri State (45.4) and Pittsburg State (46.5).
During his time at Washburn, Robinson also coached running backs and wide receivers. He was instrumental in Washburn quarterback Dane Simoneau finishing second in the Harlon Hill Trophy voting in 2011.
“Rob did an outstanding job here in every aspect that he had control of,” Washburn head coach Craig Schurig told the Tahlequah Daily Press. “I knew he was going to move on as a head coach at some point. I thought it was a good fit for him and his family.”
With Robinson’s hire at NSU, he becomes the second former staff member under Schurig to become a head coach in the MIAA. Chris Brown — a former defensive coordinator at Washburn — took over at Fort Hays State in December of 2010.
Next season Schurig will coach against both Brown and Robinson. Northeastern State is scheduled to play at Washburn on Nov. 8.
“We’ve had this before and it’s awkward the actual leading up to the game and the postgame,” Schurig said. “But during the game you’re playing and don’t think much about it. We have people at Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State, so it’s like playing family.
“We’ll be rooting for Rob except for the games we play him in.”
A Trenton, Mo., native, Robinson graduated from William Jewell College in 2000. He was a four-year letterman at fullback for the Cardinals.
After college, Robinson spent one season at Pittsburg State as a graduate assistant.
Now he’s transitioned into the state of Oklahoma.
“The state of Oklahoma is a football-rich tradition area. From college to high school, football is the No. 1 sport in the state,” said Robinson, who will make his head-coaching debut when the RiverHawks open the 2014 season at Pittsburg State on either Sept. 4 or 6.
“They want to play and they know how to play. The level of prospect that I think you can get in Oklahoma is high and that is going to be our backyard. The location of Tahlequah was a big draw for me because you can hit Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas all within two hours, and Texas is only three and a half hours away. We are going to be a high school-based team. We are going to recruit the state of Oklahoma hard. This is going to be an exciting time to get the RiverHawks back to where we need to be.”
When Duckworth announced NSU’s coaching vacancy in November, he said, “I can assure you whoever we hire isn’t going to be Houdini.”
He was right; it wasn’t Houdini. It was Robinson, NSU’s stocking-stuffer.
Robinson's coaching profile
Championships/bowl games as a coach
2011 NCAA Playoffs
2010 Kanza Bowl Champions
2007 NCAA Playoffs
2005 NCAA Playoffs
2005 MIAA Champions
2004 Mineral Water Bowl Champions
2001 MIAA Champions (Pittsburg State)
* - All postseason ventures were with Washburn, unless noted otherwise