"The Only Yardstick for Success is Being a Champion" - Bill Walsh

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Chasing the Dream

Jimmy Raye, 49ers Offensive Coordinator

Our article on Michael Robinson evoked an interesting response from a reader:
"You make some very loose connections to give credibility to your opinion. Jimmy Raye having won a Big 10 Title has nothing to do with Michael Robinson."
Actually, there are many similarities between new 49ers Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye, and multi-talented Michael Robinson, many of them having to do more with life than football. Jimmy Raye, long before he became the black double for Uncle Fester from the Addams Family, was an exciting young quarterback who played for Michigan State from 1965-67.

In 1965, his team was undefeated at 10-0 and won the Big 10 title, only to lose in the Rose Bowl to UCLA in a surprising upset.
Undaunted, J.R. came back the next season and led his team to another undefeated record and faced equally undefeated Notre Dame in the final game of the season. That game ended in a 10-10 tie, with both teams being considered co-National champions.

This was a great accomplishment for a young quarterback, especially given the fact that he was black at a time when it was a very rare sight to see a black quarterback. In fact, once drafted by the NFL, they were inevitably switched to the "skill positions", either wide receiver or the defensive secondary. So, upon being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, and then traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, J.R. saw any hopes of his being an NFL quarterback dashed by the political climate of the times.
Jimmy played a couple of seasons out of position, then his career ended.

We now flash forward to the year 2009. Jimmy is now 62 years old, and has been coaching in the NFL for 32 years. His first job as an assistant coach in the NFL was with the 49ers in 1977. Just as his opportunities were limited as a quarterback, plum jobs for black assistant coaches in the NFL were few and far between. Over the years, he was hired by rebuilding teams, and teams with very little chance of success. His best team was working with the Rams during the days of Eric Dickerson.

Over the years he gained valuable experience working under Marty Schottenheimer, and also gained experience working for Norv Turner, John Robinson, Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini. Now, as his career winds down, he finds himself returning home with a tremendous opportunity to develop and create an offensive machine under San Francisco 49er coach Mike Singletary. THIS is his plum job.

"Nothing to Do with Robinson"?

Like his new Offensive Coordinator, Michael Robinson, led his team to the Big 10 Championship. MRob as he is affectionately called, is a 6-1, 228 lb. powerhouse whom Penn State coach Joe Paterno referred to as "the greatest athlete I have coached in my 55 years at Penn State".

Michael was a standout on a losing team. He was used mostly as a wide receiver, but also played a little halfback and a short time at quarterback. It was then that Paterno made Michael his quarterback for his senior year.

Robinson responded by leading his team to an 11-1 record, winning the Big 10 title and a victory in the Orange Bowl, and being named Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year. He threw for 17 TDs and ran for eight (8) more.
Throughout his career in college, he ran for 1,637 yards, caught 52 passes for 629 yards, threw for 3,575 yards and accounted, either by passing, throwing or running for 46 touchdowns. He was also their best player on special teams.

Like his new Offensive Coordinator, Michael Robinson's dream was to play quarterback in the NFL, and like Jimmy Raye, his hopes were dashed without being given any opportunity to prove his worth at that position. Michael pleaded with Nolan to give him a chance to no avail. So, upon being drafted by the 49ers and despite his plea to be given an opportunity to at least try out for quarterback, Michael was put on ice by Mike Nolan who expressed his unwillingness to allow most rookies to even play with the classic statement: "Young players play young".

No, Michael's chances were not curtailed by his race like his coach, but by the stubbornness of a coach who was clueless as to how to utilize his players. No matter the reason, both Jimmy and Michael had his dreams of performing as an NFL quarterback denied without being given an opportunity.

Michael Robinson has never publicly complained about his being denied his dream. In fact, he has simply gone out and played with reckless abandon demonstrating the same kind of 100% effort for which Mike Singletary became famous. Michael has been a standout whenever he steps on the field.

The Connection

But now back to quarterback. Since the Miami Dolphins introduced the Wildcat offense with some success last season, many teams experimented with it including the 49ers. Michael, at 6'1" and 228 lbs., has the passing and running ability that is perfect for this formation, and it is our bet that Jimmy Raye is already designing plays using the Wildcat formation with Michael in mind. As he does so, he may be thinking back to what might have been had he himself been given the opportunity to take the snap from center in the pros.

To say there is no connection between Jimmy Raye and Michael Robinson is to deny the importance of a dream to a young player. If Jimmy's dreams were curtailed by politics, that must have cut very deeply although he never complained. I can't see him denying those same dreams of Michael Robinson, even if it only means playing QB in the Wildcat formation on rare occasions. It will be very interesting to watch this situation develop.

Gary Mialocq
The SF 49er Observer

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved


  1. Jamie O'SheaJuly 18, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    Great follow-up article. I didn't know all that about Jimmy Raye. I like this blog, especially the ability to click on the pictures to the left and watch an exciting video from the past. Keep up the great work.

  2. Jimmy Raye has been a coach on a lot off crappy teams.
    Crappy in a talent sense. I think his 32 years of knowledge of the NFL game will manifest here in San Francisco successfully. The current 49er's have talent. Uncle Fester...uhh I mean Jimmy Raye is in the right spot at the right time.


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