On Thursday, July 18, if you passed Russo Park, you probably noticed the abundance of cars parked in front of the stadium.
In the wake of former Louisiana Baseball Head Coach Tony Robichaux’s passing, this gathering of people was not a memorial service for those lost, but the transfer of a torch to a new owner.
A crowded room full of people on the third floor of the Stadium Club overlooked M.L. ‘Tigue’ Moore Field to see an announcement on the jumbotron. It read, “Welcome Back Coach Deggs.”
Matt Deggs is looking to add to the rich culture and the beautiful diamond field palace at Russo Park. He will be under a five-year contract with Louisiana and a base annual salary of $350,000 with incentives.
A ceremony to commence a new era, The Deggs Era. The Ragin Cajun’ Athletics Program held a press conference introducing Matt Deggs as the new Louisiana baseball head coach.
Robichaux hired Deggs in 2012 as one of the Cajuns assistant coaches. Coach Deggs stayed with the Cajuns from 2012-2014, contributing to Louisiana's first No. 1 national rank, as well as their first appearance to the NCAA Super Regional. After the tournament, Deggs decided to become the head coach at Sam Houston State.
In his time at Sam Houston State, he led the Bearkats to multiple nationally ranked seasons, including a ranking as high as No. 14 in 2017. With that, he elevated the program to win six championships in four years and ended his time with the Bearkats with a coaching record of 187-118.
Deggs also signed and recruited the most successful class in Sam Houston State baseball history, having graduated 13 players in May of 2019, and during four years his team never went below a 3.2 GPA and achieved 200 community service hours.
There was a calming and anxious feeling in the room as fans, media and family waited for the precise moment. As the Ragin' Cajuns Athletic Director Bryan Maggard stepped to the podium, the room fell silent, as if everyone was waiting for confirmation.
“Today is a special day for the university as we introduce the new head coach of Louisiana baseball,” Maggard said. “But today is also special because we are extremely honored to have the Robichaux family join us.”
Maggard paused many times in his opening speech as if the words of replacing a dear friend was a hard feat to accomplish, but he understood that the Ragin’ Cajun nation, though it may never be for change, needed guidance.
“Thank you so much for the much-needed support during the process and being here today, and I know it means the world to Matt, Kathy (Degg’s wife) and his kids,” Maggard said.
“The objective was to not replace Tony Robichaux, for that would not be possible,” Maggard added. “Rather, we sat out to identify the next coach of Louisiana baseball. It was imperative that we identify a head coach that would not only embrace the culture of Ragin’ Cajuns baseball, but know it coming in. I can assure you one thing: he is passionate about getting Louisiana baseball through the gates of Omaha to compete for and win a national championship.”
Deggs, seated with his family in the front row alongside the Robichaux family, stood and approached the podium as if he were ready to deliver a life-changing message. With a brown book by his side full of notes to talk to the Louisiana family, he paused to pose for a picture with his official Ragin’ Cajuns baseball jersey and cap.
Before his first statement as the official Louisiana baseball head coach, Deggs absorbed the moment at the podium. He held his head down in reverence to this new challenge he was ready to accept.
“It just speaks of the power of love and redemption; Cajun Nation’s love pulled us out of Texas back over here,” Deggs said. “I’m here today to say thank you, coach. We are all here today because of him.”
Coach Deggs reiterated he was not here to replace Coach Robichaux. Instead, he said he wanted fans to know he is honored to have been selected.
Deggs said Tony Robichaux was someone he looked up to as a friend and mentor, crediting Robichaux for being the first person to give him an opportunity. He said Robicheaux made it clear that it’s not about what you’ve done but what you are going to do now.
“There will be no bigger honor than having this family ask me to carry Coach Robichaux’s torch,” Deggs said. “I would’ve taken a bullet for that man, and I knew that in the first week I was around him.”
Deggs, tearing up at the mic, thanked his family for their support through the hardest times of his career, understanding it was not easy for them. As attendees in the crowd revered the memory of the late Robichaux, Deggs continued to speak highly of the former Louisiana baseball head coach.
“One of his Robe-ism’s that’s been really speaking to me and sticking in my gut is that everybody wants to sit down when it’s time to stand up,” Deggs said. “We are looking for guys that stand up, not sit down. Yeah, you can go ahead and sit down and curl up in the fetal position. It’s going to be easy and comfortable.”
“But, not us, we are looking for guys that will stand up,” Deggs continued. “Well, coach, let me say today that I am here and I am ready to stand up. I'm not sitting down. I’m ready to stand up, roll up my sleeves and punch the card and get back to the business of Ragin’ Cajuns baseball and get back to the business of developing men and winning championships and pushing to get to Omaha every single year.”
In a vulnerable and authentic moment, Coach Deggs revealed that accepting the head coaching job was a tough decision. Deggs said he asked for a sign to know Louisiana baseball was the right destination for him and his family.
According to Deggs, he received his sign in Huntsville, Texas, during a church service. In the opening remarks of the service, the pastor spoke about a joke of a man from Crowley, Louisiana, granting Deggs his first sign. The second sign came in the form of a young woman sitting in front of the Deggs family.
Deggs described how she turned around to him and said, “Coach Deggs, I just want you to know I’m sorry about Coach Robe.”
But, he said this specific condolence was different. The young woman explained how she met Robichaux during her collegiate career as a soccer player for the Ragin’ Cajuns and understood the impact he made.
In a shocking and storybook moment, Deggs knew right then it was time for him to return to the Ragin’ Cajuns family to embark on an uncomfortable but exciting journey.
“Sam Houston State is an amazing place led by amazing people and amazing alumni, donors and fan base, and we were able to accomplish amazing things there,” Deggs said. “But, The Lord was nudging our hearts; he was saying to get out and get uncomfortable and choose a different path and go on a different journey.”
The room exploded with cheers as Coach Deggs gave assurance of his commitment to Ragin’ Cajun baseball, also reaffirming that the Louisiana program will continue to honor Coach Robichaux in the best way possible by carrying themselves and winning as he would've wanted. The mantra for the Louisiana baseball team is “to the gates of Omaha,” referring to the ultimate goal of winning a national championship that is held in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I challenge you Ragin’ Cajun nation to stand up with us and let’s lock hand and hand and walk through the gates of Omaha, because that’s where we’re heading,” Deggs said. “One team. One vision.”
Reaffirming his opening remarks, Deggs said he believes he belongs back home with the Ragin’ Cajuns and is confident in the decision he made to return. Spectators smiled in acceptance that the Ragin’ Cajun Baseball program will be in good hands under the Deggs Era.
“Home is where the heart is, and our heart is in Lafayette, LA” Deggs said. “I promise you, we will be back in the business of the impossible.”