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MSC remembers the late Gene Robbins as winning coach who changed lives on and off the court

October 27, 2020

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The late Gene Robbins was 87 when he passed away in 2019, but his influence and importance lives on at schools, and in the hearts of former students, where he shared his talents as a coach, educator and mentor for almost 70 years.             

In anticipation of October 31, 2020, what would have been Robbins’ 89th birthday, Murray State College is remembering a coach and alumnus who set the stage for recent college successes on the basketball court.  Under Robbins, MSC was consistently nationally ranked and made three trips to the national tournament.

“Murray State will always be remembered for the winning teams coached by Gene Robbins.  He definitely set a high standard for all who have followed him, and we are proud to be recognized as the first college stop of his coaching career and his alma mater,” said MSC President Joy McDaniel. 

Robbins was an early achiever, graduating from high school in Tuskahoma at the tender age of 16.  At 18 he began teaching at Lone Star Elementary, a one-room school housing eight grades, where he had once been a student.  On a dirt court on school grounds, Robbins shared with students his affinity for the game of basketball. With the help of his enthusiasm and ability to inspire, a team quickly formed and a winning combination of teacher/coach/mentor was born.  Never one to shy away from a challenge, Robbins drove his team to away games in the bed of a pickup truck.

Robbins had found his love for coaching – a passion that remained for the rest of his life.  He was soon recruited for his first high school coaching position at Tuskahoma High, his alma mater, where he compiled a win/loss record of 164-44.  Under Robbins in the 1950s, Tuskahoma teams won six district championships, two regional championships and made two appearances at the Oklahoma state tournament.  Many students who had dropped out returned with the goal of playing for Coach Robbins and credit him with keeping them in school through graduation.

After Tuskahoma, Robbins spent time at Wilburton High School and Madill High School before heading to Murray State College as head basketball coach and athletic director.  During Robbins’ six-year tenure at Murray, he had a win/loss record of 139-41. His teams won four conference titles, three regional titles and three trips to the national tournament where his teams finished 12th, seventh, and third.

“I remember tournament play when we took third,” said Robbins’ wife Pat. “We were winning and one of the players tried to call timeout.  There was a moment of confusion that allowed the opponent to rip the ball away from us, run down the court, put it in the basket, and win the game at the very last second.  We were all just in shock!”

Robbins moved on from Murray for an assistant coaching position with the Kansas State Wildcats.  During his tenure at K-State, the Wildcats finished second and first in the Big Eight Conference. From Kansas, he spent a year at Louisiana Tech University before being named head coach at the University of North Texas in Denton.  Even being “officially” retired could not keep him off the court, and he spent time after North Texas coaching for Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Colbert HS and Durant HS.

He is a member of the Oklahoma Coaches Hall of Fame, Oklahoma Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame and the National Association Junior College Hall of Fame.  Due to national recognition, he was chosen as the very first president of the National Junior College Basketball Association. In 2011, the Gene Robbins Arena on Murray’s Tishomingo campus was dedicated in his honor.

Along the way Coach Robbins earned a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State University and a masters from Northwestern Louisiana State University.  Off the court he was a family man married almost 66 years to Dr. Pat Standefer Robbins, the love of his life and mother of his two daughters, Kathy and Robin.

Gene Robbins had a long and storied career of winning games, teaching life lessons and mentoring students.  He is a member of the Murray State College Athletic Hall of Fame and, even more important, remains deeply ingrained in the fabric of Murray State’s history and ongoing commitment to student success.