At the gravesite of UL Ragin’ Cajuns’ Head Coach Tony Robichaux, on July 8, players shuffled in a slow solemn pace as each signed the specially made draping over the casket of the all-time winningest coach in UL history. It would be the last homage, the final “thank you” to the man who formed them into players and men.
While an athletic team’s success is most commonly measured by its season record and overall amount of victories, Robichaux’s coaching style ran deeper than wins and losses. It involved reaching athletes on an individual level. The impact he had within the lives of the players he inspired and mentored is beyond measure. Coach “Robe” was as much a coach of life as he was of baseball constantly reiterating to his players, “Baseball is what we do, not who we are.”
Perhaps no one has witnessed that on a daily basis more than Robichaux’s associate coach for the past 25 years Anthony Babineaux who says one key to Robichaux’s success was that he was a transformational coach rather than a transactional one. He explains, “Tony went about his daily life coaching the players while instilling the values and beliefs they would need when they graduated and entered the real world dealing with a job, life’s challenges and a family. His door was always open to help players with the smallest to the worst possible issues. While he was a fierce competitor, Tony’s ultimate goal was to turn the 18 to 21-year-old boys into men. I learned from him, early in my career, that by coaching the whole player you get so much more in return.”
“In college, you’re exposed to this world of freedom,” says Jace Conrad former Ragin’ Cajuns second baseman, “and coach held us accountable, whether you were the best player or didn’t play. He wanted us to become better men. When I first met him, I thought to myself ‘It’s gonna be tough to impress this guy; he has very high standards.’ But we had a strong relationship; he was like a second dad on the field.”
After playing three years in the minors for the Tampa Bay Rays, Conrad now sells commercial insurance and applies the lessons taught to him by his mentor. “Insurance, like baseball, takes some failures til you get going. Coach taught me to ‘fake it til you make it.’”
Gunner Leger, the left-handed pitcher who graduated this year, smiles when recounting his first meeting with Robichaux. “I was a senior at Barb High School waiting to go to UL that fall and play on the team. A buddy of mine who was already a freshman said it would be a good idea if I helped out at a community service event they were having at school. I arrived with long hair and my cap turned backwards - two of coach’s pet peeves that my friend failed to warn me about. I introduced myself to him and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘Flip your cap the right way and get a haircut.’ It didn’t take me long to realize the standards he expected us to live by. I can still hear him in my mind when I’m feeling a little lax; he’ll be with me for life.”
With plans for a coaching career Leger says, “I will be a servant leader like Coach Robe, always showing my players that I have time for them, whether teaching baseball or helping them through personal problems. It will never be an inconvenience.”
Scott Dohmann, pitcher from 1998-2000, described as one of the fiercest competitive players who helped take the team to the World Series in Omaha says, “Coach taught me the importance of being a good Christian, being a good husband to my wife and father to my two boys. It wasn’t hard to give him everything you had because he was doing the same for you.”
Dohmann says getting to know the man behind the baseball program was “icing on the cake,” recalling, “If coach saw someone in a work uniform walking on the side of the road or at a bus stop, he’d give them a ride because he knew that person was trying to better him or herself.”
Robichaux spent his career building a culture of moral fiber and strong work ethic within the baseball program, the likes of which recruiting coordinator Jeremy Talbot, who had coached at Texas A & M, Jacksonville University in Alabama, Nebraska University and elsewhere, had not seen before.
“Obviously, we recruited talented players,” Talbot says “but, coach also wanted guys who played hard, who liked to compete - but were unselfish. He wanted the gritty players: guys who didn’t mind ‘drinking water from a hose,” as he would say, because he believed they were the ones who wanted to win.”
And win, they did. In the last 25 years of coaching the Ragin’ Cajuns, Robichaux finished with a career record of 913-597. The team earned 12 NCAA regional championships, four super regionals, nine sunbelt conference championships, and one college world series. The Ragin’ Cajuns enjoyed several national rankings, including the university’s first No. 1 designation in 2014. Robichaux was named the ABCA South Central, Sun Belt and All-Louisiana Coach of the Year several times.
He was successful, but he was humble – a combination that can be traced back to his childhood. Robichaux’s twin brother, Tim, Director of Youngsville’s Sports Complex, says the teachings of their virtuous mother were threaded into their lives and were a guiding force for Tony, who adored her. As for their love of baseball, it began in the field behind their Crowley home where their father threw balls to them after work until dark. From those cherished times, Robichaux came to firmly believe that time spent in the yard with a child was a good investment. “From the back yard to the big leagues,” he’d say. It was also the motivation behind one of his pet projects, the Ragin’ Cajuns father/son baseball camp, where Robichaux spoke to the fathers, separately, of the importance of a relationship with their sons outside of the game. Robichaux was at the camp days before his death.
If baseball is called the “thinking man’s game,” Robichaux’s brother said from an early age Coach Robe thought the game through - the hitting and pitching mechanics, reading the hitters, and how to approach the game. “By junior college, he knew more about baseball than our coaches. When he became head coach at McNeese, he was only 25, just a couple years older than the boys he was coaching,” Tim says.
Tony, born three minutes before Tim, was the more outgoing of the two. “He was the talker; I was the shy one,” Tim says. “In college he would go to my speech class and I would go to his math class. As we grew into adulthood, I looked to him for advice often. In 1999, he helped steer me from a desk job onto a path that led me to where I am today, telling me that with my God-given abilities I couldn’t make a difference in children’s lives from a cubical.”
Throughout his career, the stoic-faced, faith-driven Robichaux understood his calling and seemed to work tirelessly to lead people.
A couple years ago, in a videotaped presentation at a high school coaches convention in Alabama, Robichaux spoke about the real game being the building of men. He ended the talk asking the group, “What will you say when God asks you to give your account of stewardship and discipleship? He’s gonna’ cross your path one day - I’m worried about me; I hope I even get that chance. He’ll say, ‘Tony I sent you over 600 boys; what did you do with them? Did you expose them to Me? Did you teach them to become servant leaders? Did you teach them what a real man is?’ I don’t think I’ll be able to tell Him, ‘G,’ I got 1,000 wins; I’m the winningest coach in UL’s history; I’ve been to Omaha! I don’t think that’s the answer He’s looking for. A good coach makes a boy a better baseball player. A great coach makes a boy a better man. Be a better coach.”