The Eddie Robinson Award
Eddie Robinson's memory lives on in a dozen halls of fame, all honors befitting a man who coached his 57 teams to a stunning 408 victories, one of the top three such win totals in college football history. He was the epitome of the very best in college athletics, and so it is in this spirit the Allstate Sugar Bowl will present annually an award to an athlete, coach, team or athletic administrator in the state of Louisiana who has demonstrated the qualities most closely associated with Coach Robinson: outstanding achievement in athletics, academics, sportsmanship, and citizenship by maximizing the use of limited resources.
2009 - Brian Bordainick, Carver High School
2010 - Eddie Flint, New Orleans
2011 - Wayne Reese, New Orleans
2012 - Holy Rosary High School Track
2013 - Ron Gearing, Orleans Parish Public Schools
2014 - Donnie Russell, Edna Karr High School Baseball Coach
2015 - Broderick Fobbs, Grambling State Football
2016 - Joe Scheuermann, Delgado Community College Baseball Coach
2017 - Mark Slessinger, University of New Orleans Basketball Coach
When Mark Slessinger became the men's head basketball coach at the University of New Orleans 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 is the 2017 winner of the Eddie Robinson Award, given by the Allstate Sugar Bowl's Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.
"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.