2017 Eddie Robinson Award
When Mark Slessinger became the men’s head basketball coach at UNO in 2010, the athletics department was on life support. After a decision to drop from Division I to Division III, followed by a change-of-heart and mind by the administration to return to Division I status, the program was in limbo.
Enrollment was down, student-athletes transferred to other schools, funding and fan support were virtually non-existent.
Slessinger, who spent 11 years as an assistant at Northwestern State, continued to tell anyone who would listen that he had the best job in college basketball in the greatest city in the world. The Indiana native’s positive attitude and non-stop work-ethic paid off during the 2016-17 season as the Privateers won the regular season and tournament championships of the Southland Conference and became the only Louisiana college to compete in the NCAA Tournament.
That’s why Slessinger was the 2017 winner of the Eddie Robinson Award. The Award is presented by the Sports Awards Committee of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. The award is presented annually to an athlete, coach, team or athletic administrator in Louisiana who demonstrates the qualities most associated with Grambling legend Eddie Robinson: outstanding achievement in athletics, academics, sportsmanship and citizenship by maximizing the use of limited resources.
“To be mentioned in the same fraction of breath with Eddie Robinson is a great honor not just to myself but to our staff, student-athletes and my family. It means the world to us,” said Slessinger.
Picked ninth in the preseason Southland Conference Poll, Slessinger led the Privateers to a 20-12 overall record and a 13-5 conference mark in winning the SLC regular season crown. New Orleans won the conference tournament title with a thrilling 68-65 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and an automatic bid to “March Madness,” the school’s first bid since 1996.
Slessinger was voted coach of the year by the Southland Conference, Louisiana Sportswriters Association and the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches.
UNO’s basketball success story is not simply on the court. Under the direction of Slessinger, the Privateers have become very active with Special Olympics. UNO hosts a number of clinics throughout the year for special Olympians in the state and the coach also recognizes some of these athletes at each home game as “Sless’s Stars.”
Slessinger and his players traveled to Holden, La., after the state was hit by flooding in August of 2016. Knowing the area needed able bodies to help families recover from the disaster, “Coach Sless” led his team as they helped clean seven properties in the devastated areas.
When New Orleans East was struck by a tornado in March of 2017, the Privateers were on the job again helping with the cleanup.
“It’s important to teach ‘service learning’ to young people,” Slessinger said. “They have to understand that if you want someone to be involved with what you are doing you need to be involved with what they are doing. I’m sure it’s the type of lessons Coach Robinson taught.”
Story submitted by Ro Brown of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.