Don't get Craig Robinson wrong.
Don't get Craig Robinson wrong.
The new Oregon State basketball coach considers the task of resurrecting a Beaver program that hit rock bottom this past winter to be both significant and challenging.
Yet there's another matter that demands his attention.
"This is really the most important thing I could be doing right now, helping to elect the person who's going to run this country," Robinson said during an OSU benefit golf tournament Monday at Rogue Valley Country Club.
Robinson is the brother-in-law of Barack Obama, and he's devoted to helping his relative win the Democratic Party nomination so long as it doesn't interfere with his duties as the Beaver coach.
Following a rally in Portland that attracted an estimated 75,000 on Sunday — the largest gathering of Obama's campaign — the political intensity is as high as ever.
Robinson was hired by OSU six weeks ago during the Final Four, and he's since commuted between his home in Providence, R.I., where he coached Ivy League school Brown for two years, and Corvallis. His wife, Kelly, and their children, Avery, 16, and Leslie, 12, won't move until school is out in June.
The family, however, enjoyed a reunion of sorts as Obama made his final push in Oregon. Robinson's wife and kids visited this past weekend to look into schools, and his sister, Michelle Obama, and her kids stayed with them.
Robinson took them all to the Portland rally.
"That was really something," he said.
Robinson, 45, has appeared at about 30 events at the behest of the Obama campaign, he said, primarily as a speaker and occasionally when Obama and his wife couldn't attend.
"It's more familial support and moral support," Robinson said of his involvement, "but it's a pretty significant commitment."
He was on the trip with Obama when the presidential hopeful visited Medford last month, but Robinson couldn't make it to the Rogue Valley leg because he was hosting a recruit in Corvallis.
"As I tell everybody," said Robinson, "my vocation is being a basketball coach. It's a great job and I love it. But being part of this campaign, which is important not only for my family but for the whole country, is special."
Until he took the OSU job, he was known more for his relationship to Obama. Now that he heads one of the most storied programs in college basketball in one of the top conferences, he said he's viewed as a basketball coach first.
Robinson isn't picky about how he gets attention for himself or the Beavers.
"To be honest," he said, "it can be any way. It has to be for us to get the exposure we need for this program. It's no secret that we have to get better. To get better, you have to attract better players, and while we have a good team of players right now, we have to ratchet it up a little bit. Any publicity we can get, we'll take."
Since taking the job, Robinson has focused on recruiting, filling out his staff and finding a place to live in Corvallis.
He took a few practice swings on the driving range Monday and admitted golf isn't his game. But, he allowed, if he was good at it, it would mean he hasn't spent enough time recruiting.
In his two years at Brown, Robinson led the Bears to a school-record 19 wins in 2007-08 and to 30 victories over two years. Still, he was hardly a household name, and when the Beavers landed him, it was only after other hot coaching prospects weren't interested.
There was skepticism over Robinson's hiring, but his approval rating, something politicos can identify with, is on the upswing. A Portland radio station poll showed 70 percent of more than 1,200 voters like the idea of Robinson directing the Beavers.
"That's because I haven't lost any games yet," he laughed.
Turning serious, he said he believes his straight talk and honest appraisal of the task at hand — "I don't have a magic potion; it's going to be hard work" — has helped him gain support.
Last season, OSU was the first Pac-10 Conference team to go winless since the league expanded to 10 teams in 1978, and it had an overall record of 6-25.
The Beavers are 13th on the all-time NCAA wins list despite having only one winning season since 1990.
If others were put off by the prospect of turning the Beavers around, Robinson wasn't.
"When I was doing my due diligence, I couldn't do it that way because my whole life's been a challenge," said the 6-foot-6 former captain of the 1983 Princeton team. "People used to tell me that a kid from the south side of Chicago can't go to an Ivy League school.
"I've got family who is doing a lot more challenging things than I'm doing. We're not afraid of challenges."
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail email@example.com