By T. Scott Boatright
Grambling State University and its football team have dealt with much dismay in recent days.
Things got even worse Thursday afternoon as word quickly spread of the death of Grambling football great and longtime assistant coach Ernest Sterling, Sr.
Sterling originally came to Grambling as a basketball player before being convinced by legendary Grambling and College Football Hall of Fame coach Eddie G. Robinson to play football for the G-Men. Sterling became a standout defensive lineman for the Tigers before going on to play in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys.
After his NFL career ended Sterling returned to Grambling, where he served as Robinson’s defensive line coach for 21 seasons before taking a two-year break.
In the summer of 1995 Sterling returned to Grambling, again coaching the Tigers on defense as well as serving as an academic specialist on Robinson’s staff until Robinson’s retirement after the 1997 season.
Robinson once said of Sterling, “Ernest coached with me for 24 years. He had played for me and then in the NFL. He was like a rock and my foundation guy.”
Current GSU football coach Broderick Fobbs was a running back for the Tigers when Sterling was coaching there.
“Coach Sterling was a giant … a great, gentle and tough giant in so many ways,” Fobbs said Thursday night. “I got the news today from a couple of former teammates. I’m thinking about another of my former teammates, his son, and send my condolences to Coach Sterling’s family.”
Michael Jiles, an assistant coach at Southern University at Shreveport, is another former G-Man who played under Sterling at GSU from 1988-91 and was mourning him Thursday afternoon.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Jiles said. “I knew him all of my life. He was like a second dad. His son Pat and I graduated together. It’s rough. It hit me hard. I’m at a loss for words.”
Grambling athletics director David “Rusty” Ponton was also saddened by the news.
“This is a tremendous loss,” Ponton said. “Coach Sterling was one of the first individuals when I came to Grambling who kind of took me under his wing. I was kind of like his little ‘mentee’ — just like a son. He showed me around and showed me who to see. Basically, he taught me the Grambling way. So I will tell anyone who would listen that Coach Sterling is a large, large part of any success I’ve had at Grambling. He’s a big part of the reason I am who I am here at Grambling State University. It’s tough.”
Former Grambling baseball coach and associate athletics director Wilbert Ellis fondly remembered Sterling on Wednesday.
“He WAS Grambling,” Ellis said of Sterling. “He meant so much to everyone because of his personality and his leadership. He knew how to work, and he knew how to have fun. He was very important to Coach Rob not only as an assistant coach but because of the way he handled the academic side of things. He was a great man and it’s a terrible loss for Grambling.”