Tim Leger insists he’s not the happiest member of his family over his return to Acadiana.
“It’s that saying: When mama’s happy, everybody’s happy,” Leger said Friday, two days after he was named part of Billy Napier’s new football staff at Louisiana-Lafayette. “Nobody’s more excited than mama.”
His wife, Ashley, may share the excitement, but it doesn’t take long to pick up on the enthusiasm that spills out of the Lafayette native when he talks about coming home. In typical fashion, though, Leger got more enjoyment from seeing the reactions from his legion of friends and associates across Louisiana.
“The day it was announced, my phone literally had over a thousand messages, texts, social media stuff,” Leger said. “Every time I picked it up, there were 52 Twitters, 64 messages on Facebook. And that went on all day for a couple of days. That kind of support, and being able to come home and represent my hometown, it’s pretty overwhelming. I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
So, apparently, is Napier, who announced Wednesday that Leger would join the Ragin’ Cajuns as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.
“Tim is a terrific coach and recruiter,” Napier said in a university release. “He will bring great experience and wisdom relative to our recruiting footprint and strategy. In my short time around Tim, his ability to teach and attention to detail were elite.”
The Lafayette football community has known that since the early ’90s, when Leger was a standout quarterback under legendary coach Bill Dotson at Acadiana High before he left to chase a professional baseball dream.
Leger was a fourth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the June Major League Baseball draft right after his 1992 graduation, and played three seasons in that organization before going to McNeese and quarterbacking the Cowboys.
Ironically, baseball played a role in Leger’s return, since he and Ashley’s only son has one season of collegiate baseball remaining. Gunner Leger has been the stalwart of the Ragin’ Cajuns pitching staff for three seasons and is the Sun Belt Conference’s reigning Pitcher of the Year.
There are no prouder parents anywhere, but that success has created a three-year odyssey for the family since Gunner signed with the Cajuns in 2014 out of Barbe High.
At that time, the elder Leger was in his eighth year as offensive coordinator at McNeese under then-coach and close friend Matt Viator, and it became a challenge for Leger to make it whenever and wherever Gunner took the mound for UL-Lafayette as a freshman.
It didn’t get any easier during the past two years — even though Gunner was locked into the Friday night starter role. Leger headed north to Monroe when Viator accepted the head football job at UL-Monroe before the 2016 season, and the two helped a Warhawks team to 4-8 records over the past two seasons.
Leger credits Viator with bending over backward to make it possible for him to see his son pitch often over his first three collegiate seasons.
“No question our schedules conflicted a bunch,” he said, “and the time and the constraints in taking off and driving to watch a game, it was tough. But Coach V and I had been together for 11 years, and he’s a great man and a tremendous leader. ... I can never thank him enough.”
Now, all that’s between Leger and where Gunner and the Cajuns will play is a stairway in UL-Lafayette’s Student-Athlete Performance Center and a short sidewalk to M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field. Both facilities are virtually brand new, and add to Leger’s eagerness.
“To be able to walk out and watch is special,” he said. “Those two facilities — that goes to the commitment that’s been made here. ... and I’m excited for the opportunity that coach Napier has given me.”
Napier’s commitment to Leger came almost sight unseen. Before the past couple of weeks, even in the fraternity that is college football coaching, the contact between the two had been limited to one phone call.
“I did not even know him,” Leger said. “He was recruiting a JUCO kid that I was familiar with, and he called for some background. I’d never met him in person.”
The two had a mutual friend and colleague in Rob Sale, Napier’s first hire as offensive coordinator in December. Sale and Leger coached together at McNeese and UL-Monroe, and that catalyst led to a Jan. 2 interview. One day later, Leger’s hiring was announced.
Leger’s ties to the area and to Louisiana aren’t unique on Napier’s staff. All seven on-field coaches he has hired to date have coached at other Louisiana institutions. Four of the seven — Leger, Sale, former Cajuns quarterback and staff holdover Michael Desormeaux and New Orleans prep coaching legend Jabbar Juluke — are Louisiana natives.
“The recruiting philosophy he shares is recruit from the inside out,” Leger said. “You start in your back yard and you work away from home if you can’t find what you need, but you always take the Louisiana guy first.”