Matt Deggs

UL coach Matt Deggs was all smiles after leading his Ragin' Cajuns to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship Sunday in Montgomery, Alabama.

On the one hand, it’s not an ideal destination for coach Matt Deggs' UL Ragin’ Cajuns.

On the other hand, there's too much poetic justice involved not to embrace it.

Either way, it wasn’t hard to notice how difficult the words were for Deggs on Monday after he learned the Cajuns were headed to the College Station regional, which is hosted by Texas A&M. Deggs once was on the Aggies' staff.

“There are no accidents, I guess you would say,” Deggs said of UL being sent to College Station to face No. 2-seeded TCU at 7 p.m. Friday after the Cajuns won the Sun Belt tournament Sunday in Montgomery, Alabama.

There’s just something about this trip that means more; something that causes Deggs and his family to take a deeper breath and swallow a little harder.

It was during his five-year stay in College Station — 2006-10 as an assistant coach — when Deggs hit rock bottom personally. His drinking issues got so bad that his close friend and A&M head coach Rob Childress fired him after the 2010 season.

Deggs was out of baseball for almost two years, but he credits former UL coach Tony Robichaux for saving his life by giving him another chance as an assistant with the Cajuns.

That’s when Deggs’ love affair with UL baseball and Cajun Country began. From the outside looking in, a party town such as Lafayette should have been the worst place for Deggs to rebound.

Instead, it provided healing for him and his family. So much so that when Robichaux died after a heart attack in July 2019, Deggs felt an incredible responsibility to be the one to replace his dear friend and mentor.

When he was hired on July 17, 2019, Deggs' mission was to restore UL baseball as a mid-major powerhouse. That's where the program was during Deggs' first stint here, when the Cajuns won 43 and 58 games in his two seasons before he landed the job as head coach at Sam Houston State.

His first two seasons as head coach at UL were complicated, especially during the middle of a pandemic. Last season, his team finished 32-23.

Deggs finally could breathe a sigh of relief Sunday when his Cajuns returned to NCAA regional play with a 7-6 win over Georgia Southern.

It was fitting the Cajuns had to rally from a 5-0 deficit against Georgia Southern. After all, Deggs’ connection with UL is a comeback story. That's why knocking down that regional door meant more than it does for most coaches.

“That was a hurdle we needed to clear,” Deggs said. “That hadn’t been done here since ’16, and we knew that coming in three years ago under the tough, tough circumstances that we did. Then you get hit with the pandemic. There was just a lot that needed to be done.

“To finally see it come to fruition and get a shot at redemption and to see these kids change the course and trajectory of a proud, historic program, you really can’t put into words.”

Some may say that going back to College Station after that triumph is the last distraction Deggs needs these days, but facing fears head on is what this year’s team is all about.

This team isn’t perfect, but it never plays scared. So its leader doesn't have much choice but to attack.

Yes, he’s returned to Texas A&M sober before while leading Sam Houston State, but now he’s returning as a championship coach at UL.

“It’s different,” Deggs said as he carefully chose his words to avoid choking up. “There’s uh … you know, uh, it’s emotional.

“There was a lot of brokenness for us there, but we’re not broken no more.”

And neither is the UL baseball program.

Not that it was ever really broken, but it had been six seasons since the Cajuns reached a regional. We’ll never know if the drought would have reached six years if Robichaux had not passed away.

The important thing to Deggs is that he’s taken that first huge step to returning the program to its former glory. Even better, he did it with a team that mirrors his grit and fearlessness.

“I couldn’t be any more proud of our group,” Deggs said. “We did it the hard way. I thought we had a chance to do it the more traditional way, but it didn’t all come together.

"But we stayed with the course, stayed in the fight. One thing this group is is resilient. They’re going to persevere and grind. They’re never, ever going to tap, I promise you that. We don’t have a bunch of tiny hearts, we’ve got a bunch of big hearts.”

Deggs’ mind might have been a little less cluttered this week if UL was sent elsewhere, but what better place for his No. 3-seeded Cajuns to overcome long odds than in the very town Deggs faced the biggest obstacle of his life?

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