It was to the law profession that he had been channeled, this political science major who was following a family path that seemed his destiny.
Destiny, as we have said many times however, is an interesting traveling companion.
The newspapers that sixth grader Greg Robinson sold on the corner of Wilshire and Western in the heart of Los Angeles told of the accomplishments of the guys he looked up to growing up -- the Dodgers' Duke Snider, the Rams' Jon Arnett, Elgin Baylor of the Lakers. After all, this was a kid who lived close enough to the L.A. Coliseum that he could ride his bicycle there.
But make no mistake about it. Those may have been guys whose careers he followed, and Magic Johnson would later join that group, but those sports figures were not his heroes. That was reserved for a former B24 Bomber pilot who spent part of World War II in a Nazi POW camp. He was now one of the top trial lawyers in all of California, and one of his eight children, No. 5 in the order and No. 1 in your heart, was young Greg Robinson.
If being a competitor is the obvious trademark, the new Longhorn co-defensive coordinator who will call the plays, comes by it naturally.
"I was fifth in eight kids," says Robinson. "You're just trying to get some air."
If law seemed an obvious choice, consider this: "My father was an attorney, my uncle was a judge. My brother-in-law was a lawyer. My older brother had become a lawyer. My younger brother, who I coached in college, became a lawyer."
Football, however, had also been a thread for the family. But what others took as an avocation, Greg Robinson took as a vocation.
His love of the game was pervasive. As he sat in Father Avedado's Latin class in the ninth grade, he spent time drawing up plays for his flag football team for the PE class that would follow.
Now, it was early in his senior year at the University of Pacific in Stockton, Calif. His position coach, Jim Coletto, who later became the head coach at Cal State Fullerton, asked him if he had ever considered becoming a coach.
"I looked at him and said, 'funny you should ask, because yeah, I do have interest in that,'" recalls Robinson. "I think that I just needed somebody to say something like that, because it was something that had been there all along. I knew I loved football, and I loved sports, but it was more than that.
"The reason it was appealing to me is that I really do believe I learned the most about myself through football. I liked the idea of being able to give back. I was a walk-on player who basically earned a scholarship. From the minute I decided to become a coach, I always believed in my mind that in the coaching world, I was gonna be that scholarship guy. I had the talent, and so I decided I was going to give it a go. And you know what? I never looked back."
Competition is, indeed, pervasive. And so, in the case of the Longhorns' new ramrod of the defense, is self confidence.
"It was through football that I really was able to excel, and to achieve," Robinson said. "You learn so much in the game of football about yourself -- in those quiet moments that only you could know. That's why I got into coaching, because I could see that I could inspire people. I knew I was intelligent enough to learn the game. I liked the thought of getting to coach young people. I knew I could do it, and do it well. And the thought of me being behind a desk or being in an office all day long wasn't me."
And so it was that Greg Robinson finished his college degree and his playing career at Pacific, and became a football coach.
His odyssey has taken him to the heights of both college and professional football. He has two Rose Bowl championship rings, earned while coaching at UCLA, and two Super Bowl rings achieved as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos.
Throughout his life, family, people, and faith have been the common bonds, and the reason to be Greg Robinson. His values run deep, and so does his drive. That comes from the family. It comes from parents who held to the right things, and to a disciplined work ethic.
And from them, more than from any single source, he learned to compete. It was a competition that would take him to the NFL, because he wanted to prove he could coach at the highest level.
"It never was a goal of mine to be a professional football coach," he said after spending 14 years in the league. "My goal was always to be a college head football coach. For so long, when I was at UCLA, even in my bios, it used to say 'great recruiter.' It never said he was a great coach. People I coached with, Monte Kiffin and Jim Colletto and Terry Donahue, those guys knew I could coach, and I knew I could coach."
Even at that, the challenge alone wasn't a reason to change. He turned down a couple of opportunities to coach in the NFL. Until one day Kiffin and Robinson's best friend Pete Carroll decided to join former Pacific coach Bruce Coslet, who had become head coach of the New York Jets.
"It was a chance for us to all be together again, and I thought 'this might be worth it.' But I always thought I would come back to college."
What he didn't know was that it would take 14 years to get back. The pro game taught him a bunch of things. When you play a team twice and maybe three times in a year, "you are always looking for an edge," he said. But the basics of life and the game, motivation, discipline, etc., are the same.
"You may have the cream of the crop to work with, but you have to motivate, you have to teach, and you have to have people who have a passion for the game," he said.
It is the passion that will determine the characteristics of the new Texas defense.
"When I see defense, I see a style. It's wild and reckless and flying around. It's the challenge of getting that ball back for the offense, and doing it as fast as you can. You have to create plays. Our whole objective, the philosophy I have built in my own mind, is that we are going to challenge all 11 players in every way, shape, or form. Now how do you go about doing that? It takes great fundamentals to whip a guy across from you, to cover a guy that can run 4.3, or to win on a pass rush. All of these things take great fundamentals, great techniques. We want to be great tacklers.
"Then, you have to generate the reckless kind of game where you are trying to create chaos. You get that by studying the offense and really learning what you are dealing with, and attacking it as opposed to being attacked. I'm not a big believer in sit back and read and react. Are there times when you have to be able do that? Sure. What we want to do is win, and do everything we can to do that."
Five sisters, two brothers and a dad who was a great trial lawyer.
"Everything was competition. My parents were competitive. I think my Dad (who died two years ago) always envisioned me to be a coach, he just never told me that. I was directed. I didn't know it, but I was the one directed toward coaching. And my family loved it. I would get a phone call from my brothers and my Dad the night after every game."
When he coached with Carroll, the two used to take an hour out of a winter day for a heated game of highly competitive badminton.
Football consumes most of his time, but he does run to stay in shape, plays a little golf, and enjoys spending whatever time he can devote to his family.
"My wife is wonderful. She's done a great job of really raising the kids, but I like to be involved in them," he says.
His son, a former Division III quarterback at Washington University in St. Louis, is in grad school in Chicago, one daughter is on the lacrosse team at the University of Denver and the other is the manager for the UCLA women's tennis team. She'll be accompanying the Bruins to Austin this weekend (Feb. 28-29).
The measure of a man is not what he takes for himself, but what he celebrates in others, and nothing could fit more for Greg Robinson. When asked about his greatest moment in sports, it was not about a stadium full of people, or a celebration in a victorious locker room. It was, instead about a triumph of the human spirit.
Dennis Byrd was a defensive tackle who played for Robinson in his early years with the New York Jets. He had been the Jets' Rookie of the Year in 1989. On November 29, 1992, he shattered his neck in a collision with a teammate and was paralyzed. After seven hours of surgery, he was told he might never walk again. As he went through rehabilitation in Mt. Sinai hospital in New York, Robinson and his son used to take the train into Manhattan to watch him.
"My greatest moment in sports, and one of the greatest moments in my life," Robinson says reverently, "was watching Dennis Byrd walk again. I still get chill bumps when I think about it."
When Robinson's tenure ended at Kansas City, he left with regrets, but with significant pride.
"We accomplished a lot," he said. "You don't win that many games in that league without playing good defense. It didn't end like I wanted, but I know in my heart what we did, and I am proud of that."
As offers to stay as a defensive coordinator in the NFL were coming in, Robinson got a phone call from his old friend Carroll, who had just taken Southern Cal to a Rose Bowl win and a National Championship. He told him that the Texas defensive coordinator position was open, and asked him if he'd thought about that.
Suddenly, Greg Robinson was back at Pacific, thinking about becoming a coach.
It is hard to take a step back for anybody, but especially so when pro coaches make at least twice what a college assistant coach can make. But in the grand scheme of life, for Greg Robinson, suddenly things seemed right. He called for advice from his closest associates in the game. Kiffin, Donahue, Dick Vermiel. At the same time, Mack Brown was calling the same group of people.
"I checked him out better than I did Sally," joked Brown.
"Every time I talked to him," says Robinson, "I got more excited. It wasn't what he said. It was the way he said it."
And so, he chose to reinvest himself in college football.
On the defensive side of the ball, Robinson, his co-coordinator Duane Akina, veteran tackle coach Mike Tollison and assistant head coach Dick Tomey meet for the players' early workouts, and then spend time behind the closed door of the defensive conference room. Collectively, they have over 100 years of experience, and as they design new things and dream new dreams, they are like kids with a new toy.
"When I went to UCLA, I wanted to go to the Rose Bowl. We had eight great years. When I got the job at Denver, I knew I wasn't coming there just to fool around. Those people were serious. They'd been to Super Bowls. I knew the challenge was right in front of us. You could feel it. The same thing is here. It's about taking it to the next plateau, and that's what all this achieving is about. We all level out, and you have to go up again. Take it to the next level."
One day, Robinson will follow his friend Carroll and get that head coaching job in college.
But for now, he's having fun, working with kids and guys he likes, and planning to create chaos for those he's about to meet on the playing field.
That is, after all, what competition is all about.