If there were ever a coach who built a program from the ground up, it was Yvette Girouard.
But, shhhhh, don’t tell anyone.
She had to steal the dirt for that ground.
“We didn’t have the budget for anything like that,” Girouard said of one of the many hurdles she had to clear while getting the Louisiana-Lafayette softball program going in 1980. “(The players) borrowed my dad’s truck and stole sand from somewhere.”
Girouard was responsible for spreading that sand — and basically everything else that was involved in inaugurating a program that has now made 25 NCAA tournament and six Women’s College World Series appearances in 26 years.
Before she was done, someone else was worrying about getting the field ready; she was busy going 759-250 in 20 years as head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns and finishing fifth or better nationally three different times.
She added 526 more victories and two more third-place finishes in the College World Series while at LSU before retiring after the 2011 season. That’s a total of 1,285 wins, fourth-most in NCAA history. She’s one of only three coaches in NCAA history to take two programs to the World Series.
But to the self-proclaimed “little girl from Broussard,” it was never about the numbers. It was about opportunity, something she worked all her life to provide for her student-athletes.
“In the big picture, it was about the experiences,” she said. “When I see all those former players, they can’t remember the scores to any games, but they sure can remember the stories, and they’re all begging to tell them and hear them.”
Many of those former players will gather, and many of those stories are being rehashed before Girouard becomes the first softball coach inducted to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday in Natchitoches.
Could there possibly be anyone else to represent the sport in this state? She’s more proud of being a Louisiana native than she is of her 13 Louisiana Coach of the Year honors. She was national Coach of the Year twice and already is in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
But this honor is different, since it comes at the only place she ever called home. And it all might not have happened, if a couple of her future players hadn’t recruited her.
Pat Pourciau, the starting pitcher for then-USL’s first official team, had helped organize a club team and approached head women’s administrator Sherry LeBas about starting a varsity team. One thing LeBas told her was that they needed a coach.
A few days later, Pourciau and fellow inaugural team member Donna Clark approached Girouard, who had coached in the Lafayette Parish system but left to take a full-time role in the family business, Ton’s Drive-In, in Broussard.
“I told them I’d do it for a year,” Girouard said. “We had no salary, no real budget. But my mom finally told me that I was going to do this ... that I was born to do this and not serve the public hamburgers.”
Instead, she began serving the public on-field success. But not right off the bat.
That first team, made up of tryouts who were already on campus, went 7-15. That was her first and last non-winning season. A year later, the Cajuns went 15-13. Two years later, they won the Southland Conference.
“We didn’t have scholarships, but we had kids that loved playing softball,” Girouard said. “It wasn’t about what they were given; they just wanted to represent the university and play softball. It was the climb, it was the struggle. It was fun. … We didn’t know any better.
“It was just a simple, beautiful time.”
What also was beautiful to Girouard was the opportunity, a cherished commodity in the days when schools were still figuring out what to make of Title IX.
Support for women’s sports programs, for the most part, was still in its infancy, and Girouard and her early players had to do things to make their program possible that would stun current student-athletes.
Those early travails, though, built a bond, built a family, with Girouard as the pseudo-mom.
The program she founded and then turned over to one of her star pupils, All-America pitcher Stefni Lotief, when she accepted the LSU position in 2001, now has more than 1,500 wins and 42 All-Americans. At her next stop, she took over a good LSU program and made it a great one. Girouard went 526-171-1 and won seven Southeastern Conference titles in 11 seasons.
She developed another rabid fan base and designed the sparkling Tiger Park complex that will be the envy of Power Five programs for years to come.
Alabama coach Pat Murphy, who since 1999 has taken the Crimson Tide to nine WCWS appearances and a 2012 national championship, got his start in the sport as a graduate assistant, then a full-time assistant for Girouard at USL.
“Yvette’s legacy at LSU and within the SEC is still being felt today,” Murphy said. “She raised the bar on competitiveness.”
Her players at both schools are indeed family, a family that stretches over two schools joined by Interstate 10 — bitter rivals on the field because of their proximity and national status.
That’s not a bad thing, especially since Girouard can sit back at her lake-side home in Baton Rouge, drift out to wherever the fish are biting in the late afternoon and remember fondly the families that wouldn’t have been there if her own family and all her adopted daughters hadn’t made that first push.