Even if most of the coaching staff remains intact when a new head coach enters a program, the relationships are different, even between old friends.
When Matt Deggs’ heart told him it was time for him to step up for UL’s stunned program after the sudden death of longtime head coach Tony Robichaux in July, he elected to keep the coaching staff as it was with a few additions.
When the the season begins at 6 p.m. Friday against Southeastern at Russo Park, a major theme throughout the campaign will be around the coaches — not only honoring the one no longer here, but also those who remained and why.
Some of the players on this years UL baseball team were around when new head coach Matt Deggs was the Ragin’ Cajuns hitting coach from 2012-14.
“Our coaching staff is very well-rounded and balanced,” Deggs said. “This staff complements each other very well.
“I’m a big believer the tightness of a staff will always trickle down into the team and I think our players sense that.”
The most discussed newcomer figures to be volunteer coach B.J. Ryan, who played outfield and pitched for the Cajuns as a player before a two-time All-Star career as a closer in the Major Leagues.
“He’s a voice of reason,” Deggs said. “He’s a guy you can lean on. He’s a guy who’s been there and done that. The best part about BJ is that he played here and he’s got that connection to coach Robe.”
Like Deggs, Ryan answered Robichaux's call to "stand up" with the program in transition after the coach's death.
Opening weekend will feature Deggs' debut as head coach, the retiring of Robe's No. 36 and, on Saturday, the unveiling of a statue of Coach Robe that was purchased by former players.
“There’s not a single player on the team — hitter or pitcher — that doesn’t like him and respect him," UL senior pitcher Caleb Armstrong said of Ryan. "He obviously knows the game."
Naturally, Ryan brings immediate credibility.
“He’s a veteran guy who’s been to the highest levels,” Deggs said. “He’s been around the best players in the world. He has 48 at-bats against Hall of Famers. Who has that? By the way, they got three hits combined in those 48 at-bats.”
Much of Ryan’s philosophy comes from Robichaux, but there are differences.
“Very similar,” Armstrong said. “Robe was big on competing and that’s really all B.J.’s mindset is and that’s his philosophy. Robe’s system was a lot more intricate. A lot of that went off the hitter’s body language on the previous pitch.
“We don’t really get into a lot of that anymore. It’s more just getting up there and executing pitches and just competing.”
Armstrong suspects it might be a little easier for pitchers to talk their way into another hitter than it was with Robichaux.
In 2019, a program known for its pitching consistency struggled through a poor season in just about every category on the mound.
“I think he’ll understand,” Armstrong said. “Robe was kind of funny about that. It was hard to talk him into that. I think he’ll understand that when you get in that state of mind, it’s hard to let go of that.”
Naturally, the longtime relationships with associate head coach and director of player and program development Anthony Babineaux and assistant coach Jeremy Talbot made those decisions easy ones.
“Bab and I came up together as young pups in the coaching ranks,” Deggs said. “We’ve been together for 25 years. Not only does he coach, but he’s one of my closest friends.”
Deggs coached alongside Talbot at Texas A&M.
“Then Jeremy Talbot, who is incredibly, incredibly smart,” Deggs said. “His baseball IQ acumen is through the roof. Coach Talbot and I won championships together at Texas A&M.”
Hitting coach Jake Wells was new to Deggs with last year being his first with Robichaux.
The circumstances of a season can change the outlook of a position group in a hurry, but the picture seems to be pretty clear for UL’s outfiel…
“I wanted Jake because coach Robe absolutely loved Jake and it took me about a day and a half to figure out why,” Deggs said. “He’s intense, brings a lot of energy.
“He understands the parameters of our offense and learns a little bit more each day. He already knows the players.”
Deggs called academic and camp coordinator Chris Domingue, who also coaches in bullpen, "The Legend from Scott, Louisiana," as well as "Just a man of the people."
Deggs also raves about less-public members of his staff, including graduate coaches Grant Cox, Zach Lafleur and Adam Wyse.
“I love those kids,” Deggs said. “I love giving young guys a chance to coach. The same thing happened for me. It’s a chance to open a door, let them finish a degree and at the same time, see if this is something they want to pursue. It’s a tough business.”
As an ex-pitcher, Cox throws batting practice for the Cajuns.
“He still get guys out,” Deggs laughed. “I wish we had him.”
Those who have heard UL baseball coach Matt Deggs speak expect.
Toughness is a major part of Deggs’ pack coaching philosophy.
Lafleur illustrated that in a preseason practice session in which his jaw was broken in two places when hit by a line drive.
“He never saw it coming,” Deggs said. “He didn’t go down. He grabbed his jaw, starting spitting blood. I get out to him, look at him — a lot of blood — he’s got all of his teeth intact. Walk over the dugout, he rinses it out.
“He’s still bleeding. And he says, ‘I’m good to go, coach,’ and walked back out there and started feeding the machine.”
In Deggs’ mind, “that’s kind of what this place is to me.”
As UL baseball fans begin the process of learning the makeup of the 2020 Ragin’ Cajuns baseball team under first-year head coach Matt Deggs, o…