Introduction of Coach Robert Joseph Ross ‘59
Keydet Club Scholarship Dinner
13 October 2007
Keydet Club Scholarship donors, cadet-athletes, ladies & gentlemen…tonight I have the distinct privilege of introducing our keynote speaker...and I can’t tell you how “honored” I am to have this opportunity. Coach Ross is one of the finest college and professional football coaches of the last half century;…he is an extremely principled gentleman…, and he is a close personal friend.
I knew of Bobby Ross from high school days when I was at Thomas Jefferson High in Richmond, VA…and he was in his first of three cadet-student years at VMI. His exploits were often described in the Sports section of the Richmond Times. A favorite of mine was a story outlining Bobby’s athletic afternoon in the Spring when he was faced with the challenge of playing two sports simultaneously…often hurrying from the baseball field with his spikes, over his shoulder, to change to football cleats for spring football and vice-versa… balancing both sports as a leader on both teams. As a 16 year old I found this inspirational. As a Rat, he was our quarterback and Football Team Co-Captain his first class year. I quickly learned of the respect he garnered from his teammates and the entire VMI Corps of Cadets. I was also in Bobby’s Company…and in his squad. He was not a Rat Daddy…, nor was he an overly strict enforcer of the system in the company…but, we always stood taller and paid attention when in his ranks.
I also learned of the fiercely competitive nature of this man…let’s remember that he was as good and great a baseball player as he was in football. After the conclusion of the ’58 football season, we were playing a company “intramural” basketball game and, at the time, the result was pretty important towards the Garnett Andrews standing.. I was leading a fast break and threw a “behind the back” pass to a teammate…in fact, I think he scored, but Bobby Ross “took me to the wood-shed”…; in no uncertain terms he told me that I should have taken the ball to the hoop for a sure basket instead of trying a risky low-percentage move. Almost 50 years later, I remember this act in detail…for the real lesson it imparted. Even in intramurals, winning was important to Bobby Ross. He was a great competitor…, the VMI way…which was to be a hallmark of his life’s work.
Much of what follows is highlighted in this evening’s program, but it bears quickly repeating.
Coach Ross graduated from VMI in June 1959 and married Alice…, a wonderful lady in her own right…a few days later. He served in the United States Army for two years before beginning his coaching career. He spent four years in the high school ranks at Colonial Heights High School and Benedictine before returning to the Institute as an assistant coach. Following stints at William & Mary, Rice, and Maryland, he accepted his first head coaching job at The Citadel in 1973. In 1978, he entered the professional-ranks as an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs. Three years later he came back to the college ranks as head coach at the University of Maryland where he won three ACC Championships. Georgia Tech lured him away in 1987, and he won a national championship with the Yellow Jackets and was honored as Bobby Dodd National Coach-of-the-Year. In 1992 he was named head coach of the San Diego Chargers, who won the 1996 AFC Championship under his leadership. Coach Ross then coached the Detroit Lions for four seasons, leading them to two play-off appearances. And, from 2004 to 2006 he was Head Coach at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He owns a 100-92-2 record in 16 years as a collegiate head coach and a 77-68 record as a head coach in the NFL.
While coaching has defined Bobby Ross’s life, and he has had enormous success in that profession, a remark he made at a speech last month in Richmond…for me, defines the man. He began his remarks by saying that while he appreciated the nice references in the introduction to his successful college and pro career…he wanted everyone to know that he regarded his most “illustrious achievement”… being elected to represent his class on the VMI Honor Court.
Think of that statement…here is a man, who coached a college team to a National Title…led another to a Super Bowl…, has a basement full of trophies…and yet, look what means most to him.
Embedded in that “simple statement” by Bobby Ross are the values at the heart of VMI…selflessness, honor, and service.
Ladies and gentlemen --- Coach Robert Joseph Ross., VMI Class of 1959.