Former UL-Lafayette coach Robert Lee returns to high school ranks at Morgan City _lowres

Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Robert Lee directs his team against Denver in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Denver on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Robert Lee had to go all the way back to fifth grade to find the last time he wasn’t either playing or coaching basketball.

A year after working in the private sector, Lee, a native of New Roads, will resume his coaching career this fall when the 47-year-old agreed Wednesday to become the boys basketball coach at Morgan City High School.

“This past year was probably one of the toughest from a mental standpoint,” Lee said. “I didn’t really know how to act, but it was a good learning experience. It showed me what I really wanted to do with the rest of my professional life, and that’s coach basketball.”

Lee’s returning to his coaching roots after beginning his career 22 years ago at Opelousas High School, where he went 109-27 and led the Tigers to four straight appearances in the Class 4A state playoffs — highlighted by an appearance in the Top 28 Tournament in the 1993-94 season.

Lee guided Opelousas to a 29-8 record and the state quarterfinals a year later before leaving for a college coaching career that spanned 18 years until he went into private business last year.

Lee spent 14 years at Louisiana-Lafayette, including the last six as head coach where he was promoted in 2004, and guided the Ragin’ Cajuns to an 80-100 record. His tenure included a Sun Belt Conference tournament title and trip to the NCAA tournament in 2005.

Lee also led UL-Lafayette to a Sun Belt Western Division title and helped develop six players who went on to earn all-conference honors.

During his stay with the program, UL-Lafayette reached at least the semifinal round of the Sun Belt tournament six times in a seven-year stretch; the Cajuns also reached the NCAAs in 2000 and participated in the NIT in 2002 and ’03.

“I feel like it’s a slam dunk,” Morgan City principal Mickey Fabre said. “We went out and got a tremendous candidate. We’re looking for someone who’s going to be committed to us for the long term. We’ve had success when we’ve had stability with someone who’s been here a while with us.”

Lee’s college stops also featured a year at UL-Monroe and three more at Arkansas-Little Rock — all in an assistant’s role — before stepping away from the game last season.

Morgan City went 16-9 last season and finished second in District 8-4A behind Ellender. The Tigers, who lost in the first round of the playoffs to Plaquemine, feature a program with a rich history that’s produced such standout players as Georgetown’s Joey Brown, Syracuse’s Dave Johnson and currently Shawn Long of UL-Lafayette.

Not only did Lee relish the opportunity to return to high school coaching, but he saw a chance to get back to a region of his home state where he experienced success both as a coach and player, the latter including earning four letters at Nicholls State where he captained the Colonels’ 1989-90 team.

Moreover, Lee’s oldest daughter is a freshman at Tulane and the move will help to bridge a chasm that previously existed.

“The main thing I want to do is bring a state championship to Morgan City High,” Lee said. “That was one thing I was unable to do at Opelousas, and we were very close a number of times. I’ve always had that in the back of my mind if I ever got the chance to coach high school again. I know, once we get our program established, we’ll have a chance to hopefully compete one day very soon at the highest level in Class 4A.”