The Four Pillars: Athletics
For 11 seasons from 1974 to 1985, Les Robinson was the face of Citadel basketball, guiding the Bulldogs to an unprecedented run as head coach, becoming the first coach to win 20 games in a season and being victorious in the last 23 consecutive home games he coached in McAlister Field House.
These days he is the face of the college’s department of athletics. As director, he has led the program into what many may consider another Golden Age of Citadel athletics.
Last spring, Robinson added his thumbprint to the revitalization of Johnson Hagood Stadium by donating $100,000 of his own money to the project in memory of Dr. Rodgers Harshbarger, ’39, an outstanding boxer and football player who was the family’s physician in Robinson’s hometown of St. Albans, W.Va., and who first introduced Robinson to The Citadel.
It is the largest contribution any employee—while still working—has ever donated to the college.
“Though Coach Robinson graduated from North Carolina State, he has exhibited special
admiration for the college that gave him his education as an assistant basketball coach, head basketball coach and athletic director,” Board of Visitor member Tom McQueeney,’74, wrote in an April letter.
“Les Robinson's generous gift of $100,000 to The Citadel Brigadier Foundation is just the icing on the cake,” said Gene Moore, ’50, a Florida lawyer who donated the first seven-figure gift to the project. “Over the years he has contributed more to our Citadel athletic programs than any other individual in our history, and it is ironic that Les is an alumnus of N.C. State and not The Citadel. This clearly indicates the deep dedication and devotion that he holds for our beloved institution.”
“I wasn’t surprised (with the donation),” said Dr. Harris (Sam) Pearson, ’55. “I’ve been with Les and his wife Barbara on several occasions, and they are endearing to me,” Pearson said. “When I was with them in Indianapolis and Atlanta, I was amazed at the number of people who not only knew them but came up to them to speak. I’m not surprised at anything he can do. But I was most impressed that people usually respond with a ‘you-bet’ or ‘sure thing’ when Les asks them for something. Les is indeed special.”
It was Robinson, who initially came to The Citadel as an assistant basketball coach in 1970, who first described the Johnson Hagood Stadium revitalization project as the college’s “front porch.” It was Robinson who helped bring in more than $8 million to complete the second phase of the stadium project that opened in the fall of 2006. It was Robinson through his numerous connections around the NCAA landscape who scheduled football games that have brought the college more than $5 million in guarantees to help offset the skyrocketing operations budget of the athletic department.
The man known as the face of Citadel athletics has now added his thumbprint to the stadium, benefiting the Bulldogs and countless others who will use the facility as a leadership lab.
“The future of Citadel athletics rests with the completion of the stadium project,” said Robinson. “This isn’t necessarily for bricks and mortar, but for the future of athletic scholarships which are provided through The Citadel Brigadier Foundation.”
Robinson said that after the stadium is paid for, all revenue, including money from the suites, club seating, and personal seat licenses (PSLs), will go to the Brigadier Foundation to support scholarships.
“Athletic scholarships are what brought the likes of Gen. Rosa, Fred Jordan and Ed Conroy to The Citadel,” he added. “We want to continue to bring the best here.”
Rosa, ’73, a former quarterback, is the college’s president while Jordan, ’79, is in his 16th year as the baseball coach and Conroy, ’89, recently completed his first season as the basketball coach.
To finish the new stadium, Robinson issued a challenge to 99 others to match his $100,000 donation, a challenge which should generate $10 million for the stadium.
“My experiences have taught me that most sizeable gifts to people’s alma maters are given because of what the institution did for the individual. Although I did not graduate from here, The Citadel played a great role in my achieving my lifetime goals,” said Robinson, who was recognized by the alumni association with honorary alumni status at homecoming last year.
“I’m compelled to do the same, but I’m issuing a challenge with my donation.”
Robinson said members of the Bulldog 100 will have their names prominently displayed at Johnson Hagood Stadium. And many alumni, Robinson said, plan to match his gift.
“Les understands that a new stadium will have far-reaching benefits, not only for football but for all Citadel athletics. His generous gift tells the rest of us that now is the time to act and turn our vision of a completed stadium into reality,” said Rosa.
Robinson equated the stadium project to a store where the facility first has to be built before any sales could be made.
“Like any business, we’ve got to first build the store before we sell any products,” he said. “And the products we have to offer, in addition to quality play on the field, will be the stadium’s suites, club seating, PSLs and others.
“I’ve said all along that the football stadium is the front porch of any college as it is the campus’s focal point,” he added. “It holds the college’s largest gatherings of the year, and once we have Johnson Hagood Stadium completed and paid for, it will be a showcase for the entire Citadel family.”
Les Robinson was named the Southeast athletic director of the year by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics for 2006-2007.
Story by Andy Solomon. Reprinted from "The Citadel" magazine with permission.