NFL

Count former coach John Robinson among strongest supporters of Rams' return to L.A.

When the Rams left Southern California for St. Louis after the 1994 NFL season, John Robinson thought the franchise was gone forever.

The former Rams and USC coach never anticipated the team would return to Los Angeles and possibly play in the Coliseum.

"Hell no," he said, laughing.

The NFL this week approved the Rams' relocation to the Southland for the 2016 season. The team is expected to play three seasons at the Coliseum before moving into a new stadium in Inglewood before the 2019 season.

Robinson, 80, said he was "excited about the Rams coming back" and joked that he was prepared for their arrival.

"I saved all my Rams gear," he said. "I went and got it out again."

Robinson was USC's coach for seven seasons before he succeeded Ray Malavasi as the Rams' coach in 1983. He compiled a 79-74 record (including the playoffs) and led the Rams, who played home games at Anaheim Stadium, to two NFC title games.

"Most of it was good times," he said.

Robinson said two of the most memorable games were the conference title games against the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 1989 San Francisco 49ers. Both opponents won Super Bowl titles.

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"Two of the great NFL teams of all time," he said.

Robinson said the Rams organization was "close all the time" to taking the next step.

"We were sniffing at it," he said. "We just didn't have the kind of vision from an organizational standpoint to put us over the top."

USC, which manages the Coliseum, would welcome the return of the Rams because their tenancy would generate funds toward the university's proposed $270-million renovation of the historic venue. Robinson, who coached the Trojans in a second stint from 1993-1997 and at Nevada Las Vegas from 1999-2004, now works for USC in athletic fundraising.

Robinson coached USC in the Coliseum first as an assistant and then as head coach. He said it was also the site of his first experience as a college player at Oregon.

In 1955, USC defeated the Ducks, 42-15.

"We were way behind," he said, laughing. "They put me in and I lost my virginity at the Coliseum."

As an assistant under John McKay, Robinson helped the Trojans win national titles in 1972 and 1974.

He was the Oakland Raiders' running backs coach in 1975, and when McKay left to coach the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers after that season, USC turned to Robinson.

The Trojans promptly lost the 1975 opener against Missouri and then won 11 games in a row, including a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan.

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Robinson guided the Trojans to a share of the 1978 national title.

"The Coliseum is the greatest thing in the world to me," he said. "All the great joy of my coaching career was there."

Robinson returned to the Coliseum with the Rams to coach against the Los Angeles Raiders.

"It's like having a home and selling it and then going back and visiting," he said.

Now he is eager to watch the Rams.

Robinson worked as a radio commentator on two Rams games this season and was impressed by running back Todd Gurley, who rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie.

"Gurley just came on — he is a really good back," Robinson said. "He may not be Eric Dickerson, but he's pretty close."

Robinson is optimistic about the planned stadium and entertainment center in Inglewood that is scheduled to be completed for the 2019 season. He mentioned AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

"It's going to be in Los Angeles what Jerry Jones has done in Arlington,'' Robinson said. "It's going to be a fabulous area and have the same impact."

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 16, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Still hooked on the horns - Former Rams coach Robinson is among the biggest backers of their return to L.A." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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