Tony Robichaux was a good man who just happened to be one of the best coaches in Louisiana history.
The longtime head baseball coach at the University of Louisiana sadly passed away on Wednesday at the age of 57. Robichaux had a sudden heart attack on June 23rd, had open heart surgery the following day, and then was transported to Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans where he had another surgery before passing away.
In the hours since his sudden passing, there has been an abundanct outpouring of sadness but also heartfelt appreciation to man who led the Ragin’ Cajuns baseball program for a quarter of a century.
A slew of current and Ragin’ Cajun players such as Hayden Cantrelle, Blake Trahan, Jonathan Lucroy and Gunner Leger, to name just a few, have expressed how integral Robe was to help transform them from young boys into respectable men of their communities.
Not to mention his contemporaries and friendly rivals who expressed gratitude to the son of a butcher from Acadia Parish who led both McNeese State and UL to unprecedented success, a list that includes former UL and LSU softball coach Yvette Girouard, South Alabama coach Steve Kittrell, LSU legendary coach Skip Bertman and current LSU skipper Paul Mainieri.
It took only a single meeting with Robichaux to understand why his players, fellow coaches and media alike respected him so much — which had very little to do with his baseball mind, which was quite brilliant.
Robe was a straight shooter who talked the talk, and walked the walk.
The man was genuine in preaching accountability as he never shied away from answering tough questions following a difficult loss or even trying season. Excuses were not allowed in his dugout or locker room — not by him or his coaching staff or players.
Robe also spoke frankly in public speaking engagements about issues ranging from baseball to parenting to suicide — much of his outlook on life, and coaching, stemmed from his faith — which he wore proudly on his sleeve. Robe was never ashamed of being a servant of God.
All of which made him refreshing to deal with, especially in this era of modern coaches who carefully orchestrate politically correct answers to simple questions. Robe was an old school coach and without a doubt the real deal.
For many of us in the media, Robichaux might have been the most accessible salt of the earth and brutally honest coach we ever dealt with on the collegiate level, or any level, for that matter.
Whether it was after his weekly, and often entertaining, press conferences filled with his trademark “Robe-isms” inside the Cox Communications building or in the rain following a difficult loss or in the hot sun after a thrilling victory, Robe always made time to talk to us.
For a story I did on O’Neal Lochridge a few months ago, I requested Robe give me 10 minutes after his weekly presser. So we sat down in Josh Brenner’s office and Robe graciously gave me nearly half an hour.
Admittedly that was because I kept asking questions but also because Robe was genuinely passionate about talking about Lochridge and not about his skills as a player but what kind of man he was.
That is what makes his Hall of Fame worthy resume stand out even more.
That resume includes 1,177 wins, including 912 at UL, 12 NCAA Regionals, four Super Regionals, nearly 60 players drafted, a 58-win season (2014) and of course the program’s lone trip to the College World Series in 2000 — which to this day remains the first and last time a team from the Sun Belt Conference made it to Omaha. Coastal Carolina won the national championship prior to joining the SBC.
There was also the $18.5 million renovation of Russo Park that Robe oversaw, which turned the ballpark into one of the best collegiate palaces in the South.
And there were all those “Robe-isms” which endeared him even more to his players, Ragin’ Cajun fans and media alike.
There was, “When a monkey jump on your back, don’t let it become King Kong. Make sure it stays your little pet monkey” and “We teach our kids to use the game of baseball, not the game use them.”
The most famous of all was the one he uttered back in 2015, “We want guys who drink out of the water hose, not the guy whose mommy is bringing him a Powerade in the third inning.”
The one that always stuck with me, though, was the one he often said multiple times.
“Nowhere in the Bible does it say how to be a great baseball player. But it’s pretty clear what kind of man you should become.”
Providing the tools for young men to grow into hard-working and respected members of their respective communities meant more to him than wins and championships.
That applied to coaches and players alike as Robe became synonymous with giving others second chances.
There was Matt Deggs, whose alcohol abuse derailed his coaching career before Robe took a chance on him. After spending a few years under Robe at UL, Deggs became a successful head coach at Sam Houston State, where he remains today.
Robe didn’t only give second chances to those who were responsible for their own failures. Lochridge saw a promising career at LSU end due to back issues which he had no control over. Despite not playing ball for a few years, Robichaux welcomed the former STM star to the roster.
That was the essence of Robichaux.
Being a baseball coach was simply the vessel for him to do his life’s work or God’s work — doing what he can to help young men succeed.
That mantra is summed up best by one of his most well-known quotes, one that has been shared plenty this week.
“When I die, I don’t want to be known as a baseball coach. I want to be known as someone who benefited the lives he encountered outside of the field.”
Not to worry Coach Robe you did just that. God bless.