When parents send their children to a university as student-athletes, it's with the hope that their coaches will have a positive impact on the young players.

For parents who sent their sons to play baseball for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns over the past 25 years, Tony Robichaux must have seemed like a dream come true.

“You can’t get a better mentor for your son than Tony Robichaux,” said Kevin Cantrelle. He had played for Robichaux and then had the opportunity to send his son to play for the legendary coach. Hayden Cantrelle was an All-Sun Belt shortstop the past two seasons.

Unfortunately, Hayden Cantrelle is part of the last team to be coached by Robichaux.

The iconic Cajuns coach died Wednesday at Oschner Medical Center in New Orleans after undergoing two heart surgeries. There will be a memorial visitation between 3 and 9 p.m. Sunday at the Cajundome and the funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church on Johnston Street.

“As parents, we’re always praying and hoping that somewhere down the road in our child’s lives that someone can help drive our message home,” Mike Conrad said. “Because we leave voids as parents. We’re not perfect.”

Conrad had two sons — Jace and Brenn — play for Robichaux at UL.

“I know when Jace and Brenn’s time came to have an opportunity to play college ball, this is where they wanted to be and, thankfully, this is where they wound up going, because I knew the type of man Tony Robichaux was,” Conrad said. “I knew he would be the one to kind of finish them off … turn these young boys into men like he’s done for so many. So as a parent, I feel so fortunate that he spent time with them.”

What Conrad didn’t necessarily anticipate was how much Robichaux would impact him, as well.

“Knowing him and having all the conversations over the years that I did have with Tony, he made me realize my shortcomings, as well,” Conrad said. “I learned from him as an adult. I learned from him life is so much more important than any game.

“He always used to say that coaches are judged by wins and losses, but that’s not what you’re going to be judged on when you reach your higher power. That’s not what he’s going to judge you on. He’s said it so many times. We all know it, but he was just such a class guy.”

Conrad never doubted Robichaux's motives.

“He was in it for the right reasons in a world we live in now where people are doing so many things for the wrong reasons,” he said.

It was that no-nonsense approach that kept Hogan Harris and his family in Lafayette to play college baseball.

“Hogan could have gone many other places,” said his father, Rob Harris, who has been around UL athletics since the 1980s. Mom Tiffany Harris played softball at UL in the 1990s.

“I just liked the fact that Tony was a straight-up guy," Rob Harris said. "I knew Tony would always have Hogan’s best interests at heart, because he didn’t play favorites. He was just a genuine person.”

Harris said it was Robichaux who first alerted him to Hogan’s long-term ability. Attending one of Robichaux’s camps more than a decade ago, UL’s head coach pulled Harris aside.

“He said, ‘Rob, I know Hogan’s only 10, but I think he’s got something’,” Harris remembered. “And I knew Tony’s not going to just tell you that if he doesn’t believe it.”

Robichaux steered the Harris family to the Texas Baseball Ranch in Montgomery, Texas. Harris went on to play for the Cajuns and was drafted in the third round of by Oakland Athletics last summer.

"That’s all because Tony saw something in him as a 10-year-old," Harris said.

On Wednesday, the day Robichaux died, Hogan Harris made his fourth start in the New York-Penn League. Despite pitching with a heavy heart, Harris struck out the first six batters he faced for the Vermont Lake Monsters and eight of the first nine.

Like Harris, Brian Breaux had known Robichaux for many years before his son Brennan began patrolling centerfield for the Cajuns.

“I’ve had season tickets before Brennan was born,” Breaux said. “I’ve always admired the way he handled himself and the poise in tough situations that he exhibited.

“I think the way he’s being remembered as being a great man is right. If I had to sum it up, I’d say he’s a good man and is faith-filled. That’s who he was. It was real and that’s why we invested our son into this program.”

For the Breaux family, it was about far more than what spot in the order their son was going to hit.

“You want a coach to reflect your values,” Breaux said. “Tony did a really good of reflecting the values of our family and also the values of Southwest Louisiana. He was homegrown, he had homegrown ideas and also he could wear a white shirt, but he had a blue-collar work mentality. That’s what we wanted for Brennan.

“We didn’t look for him to be a parent, but we looked for him to echo the same morals and ideas that we have. His religious values were important to us. Tony instilled the idea of take the high road, whether it’s easy or not.”

Tim Leger reflected in a Facebook post about Robichaux's impact on his son Gunner's life. Leger is a coach himself, serving as the Cajuns' wide receivers coach and football recruiting coordinator.

"I am forever indebted to you," Leger wrote. "You treated mine like your own and for that I say, 'thank you.' You loved him and he loved you — a love that many never get to experience. You filled every void I left as a man and father for him. For that I am grateful."

With the entire UL baseball community still shaken from the news of Robichaux’s death, Conrad is hoping the program moves on … like Robichaux would have wanted.

“Support is needed for this program now more than ever,” Conrad said. “For these coaches and these kids, we cannot give up on this program. Tony would not want that. Tony would want everybody to support whoever ends up stepping up and stepping in.

“We didn’t end on a good note (record-wise), but people need to set that aside. They really do. This (sudden death) has changed a lot of things. My outlook on a lot of things has changed.”


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.