In one of the most impressive gestures to say ‘Thank you’ to a man and his family, the former players of longtime UL baseball coach Tony Robichaux officially presented an eight-foot statue in front of Russo Park in a ceremony Saturday.
Shortly after Robichaux’s untimely death on July 3, former UL pitcher Phil Devey began contacting former players here and at McNeese State to fund a $160,000 statue to honor their coach.
“It’s just amazing that he could bring us here and then full circle we could come back and honor him and his legacy,” UL coach Matt Deggs said.
The finishing touches are being done at the Brian Hanson Sculpture Studio in New Jersey and the statue of Robichaux will be available for public viewing on Feb. 15 during the opening weekend of UL’s 2020 baseball season.
From the start of the project, Devey made it clear his mentor wouldn’t have wanted it without it being funded by the players, many of whom were on hand for Saturday’s ceremony.
“I think Phil made the perfect statement,” twin brother Tim Robichaux said of Tony’s wishes. “Tony always said, ‘I’m not going to Omaha unless it’s with my players.’ I think that’s why he would accept this.
“In our talks all the time, they were always in his heart — former players or players at the time.”
The monument features the eight-foot statue of Robichaux — with a cross, a watch and sunglasses on his cap — and then his players below him listening to one of his many life-lesson messages.
On the front is the message, “Don’t hook your identity to a game. Let the way you live your life define who you are.”
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Tim Robichaux said, “that’s the message we would like everybody to have gotten from this. To coach for the right reasons and make an impact on children’s lives, just how really far-reaching this can be.”
Tony Robichaux’s wife, Colleen, was more than pleased with the monument and the entire weekend.
“It’s phenomenal, phenomenal,” she said. “Words can’t express how this weekend was. It was overwhelming, but yet awesome, because I know all the hard work and the things that he’s done. So to have this, it’s just truly remarkable. It shows what he was.”
As much as Robichaux deflected attention during his career, though, Devey wasn’t having it on this special day.
“Today, coach, it’s too bad, because we’re making it about you today,” he said.
“The term GOAT (greatest of all time) or legend is a term that is overused. Those terms for Tony Robichaux are understated. Coach Robichaux is the greatest coach of all time, period.”
Sculptor Brian Hanlon of New Jersey stood in attendance for the ceremony with a huge smile on his face.
“I feel like I’m at church,” he laughed. “It’s a great day.”
After conversations with Devey, Hanlon understood the importance of illustrating the reverence Robichaux’s players had for their coach.
“If I had done the players life-size, it would have been a $750,000 statue,” Hanlon said. “We pulled about a $450,000 statue out of it for a fraction of the cost.”
Saturday morning was about more than the unveiling of the statue.
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Devey addressed the Robichaux family by saying the sacrifice they made in sharing their husband and father with his players “is a debt we as player will never be able to repay.”
On Saturday, those players gave it their best shot.
In addition to the permanent monument outside the park, Devey presented the family with a check with the funds raised above and beyond the cost of the statue.
“There is an army of people around you that love and support you,” Devey said, including fans as well as former players. “You are not alone. We are here for you.”
Deggs expressed a similar message.
Just like his mentor Tony Robichaux, former UL pitcher Phil Devey didn’t want to be the center of attention.
“To the whole Robichaux family, as long as I’m here, you will never want or need for anything,” Deggs said. “I speak for all of Cajun Nation. I know every former player feels the same, every former coach feels the same.”
On Friday night, Robichaux’s jersey number was retired in a pregame ceremony.
“There’s no replacing the irreplaceable,” Devey said.
But as one UL employee said after the ceremony, “I thought Friday night’s pregame ceremony would help, but it only made it worse. He really is dead. He’s really not coming out of the dugout.
“But today made me feel a lot better. Now I get to see him every day as I drive to work.”