J Robinson fired after controversial, storied career

Robinson’s handling of an alleged prescription drug ring on his team ends his historic and controversial 30-year run as Minnesota’s wrestling coach.

Former Gophers wrestling head coach J Robinson addresses his team on Jan. 20.

Image by Liam James Doyle

Former Gophers wrestling head coach J Robinson addresses his team on Jan. 20.

by Jack White

J Robinson, the embattled former Gophers wrestling head coach of 30 years, was fired Wednesday following a University of Minnesota investigation that faulted his handling of an alleged prescription drug problem among more than a dozen student-athletes on his team.

Robinson was placed on paid administrative leave in June after allegations surfaced that Gophers wrestlers were using and selling the prescription drug, Xanax. Though authorities declined to press criminal charges, Robinson’s contract was terminated after the University’s internal investigation found he mishandled a drug problem on his team.

“I’m terminating coach Robinson’s contract because he was not forthcoming with superiors for reporting his suspicions about selling and abusing prescription medication,” athletic director Mark Coyle said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “I have a great deal of respect for coach Robinson and what he’s accomplished during his 30 years at the University of Minnesota. That respect cannot excuse his conduct in this instance.”

Robinson will not receive a buyout, Coyle said.

Brandon Eggum, who was named the team’s acting head coach in August, was named the interim head coach for the upcoming season.

Despite the allegations — which came amid a down year for the team — the longtime coach will also be remembered for turning the Gophers wrestling program into a national powerhouse.

Robinson coached the Gophers to all three of their national championships and coached 14 individual national champions. Wrestlers have received 124 All-America honors under Robinson.

Several of the best wrestlers in NCAA history wrestled for Minnesota under Robinson — he coached Brock Lesnar to an individual national championship at heavyweight in 2000. Lesnar wrestled professionally in the Ultimate Fighting Championship as recent as this year.

He also coached former Minnesota Athlete of the Year Tony Nelson. Nelson won a national championship in 2012 and was runner-up in 2013.

“[Robinson did] a hell of a job here,” said Gophers football head coach Tracy Claeys Wednesday. “[Robinson] won a lot of wrestling matches … I think he’s well respected and just so happens that it didn’t end on a good note. But he’s done an awful lot of good things for the University of Minnesota, but the sun will come up tomorrow and both sides will move on.”

Robinson, who was a storied wrestler before his coaching career, wrestled for Oklahoma State and had a 20-15 record as a collegiate wrestler. Robinson won two national championships each in Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling after college. He qualified for the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

Before he qualified for the Olympics and after he graduated from Oklahoma State, he joined the military, where he served in Vietnam for one year as an Army Ranger.

Robinson’s coaching career began in 1976 as an assistant coach at the University of Iowa. Robinson coached at Iowa for nine seasons and the team won seven national championships over that period.

Robinson, who had been Minnesota’s coach since 1986, was also inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and named National Coach of the Year three times during his time at the University. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year seven times.

Although Robinson has had his share of successes at Minnesota, he continually sparked controversy while head coach.

In 2009 Robinson was investigated and cleared in an internal investigation — triggered by a Minnesota Daily investigation — for allegedly violating NCAA rules by buying from and selling real estate to current and former wrestlers. Investigators didn’t find evidence of NCAA violations..

Robinson was also a vocal critic of Title IX, the federal law that bars gender-based discrimination. He filed a gender discrimination complaint against the University in 2004 and was reprimanded by the University in 2001 for using school resources to campaign against Title IX. He allegedly forced wrestlers at his wrestling camp to write anti-Title IX letters to elected officials.

Two university investigations, three national championships and a hall of fame induction later, the historic Gophers head coach finished his career at the University with victories on the mat and controversy off of it.

“Given your conduct, your refusal to obey my directive and your failure to accept responsibility for your actions, you can no longer continue in your position as Head Coach,” Coyle said in a termination letter to Robinson. “I have an obligation to act in the interests of the entire Department, all of our student athletes, as well as the broader University community.”