Look who’s back: ex-Cajuns assistant Matt Deggs brings Sam Houston State to Lafayette _lowres (copy)

Advocate file photo by BUDDY DELAHOUSSAYE -- Former UL-Lafayette hitting coach Matt Deggs led Sam Houston State to a 41-20 record this season. His team faces Arizona at 1 p.m. Friday in the Lafayette regional.

No, there will never be another Tony Robichaux.

Director of athletics Bryan Maggard and everyone else who spoke about the 25-year UL head baseball coach after his death on July 3 made that very clear.

He also said Robichaux would be impossible to replace. 

That's what makes the announcement of Matt Deggs as Robichaux’s successor so perfect. Deggs won't try to replace Robichaux; he won't have to.

On paper, Deggs, who was introduced Thursday at Russo Park’s stadium club, is a great choice. His pedigree is excellent. He spent the better part of three seasons with the Cajuns as a hitting coach — most of the 2012 season and all of 2013-14. 

But for the heartbroken fan base, it goes much deeper than that.

He's not a replica of Robichaux, but he is a disciple.

In 2011, Deggs was near rock bottom, personally and professionally. He was an alcoholic. He got fired from his associate coach at Texas A&M, forcing him to spend 430 days away from the profession he loves.

Tony Robichaux threw him a lifeline.

Seemingly by chance, an unexpected opening in UL’s coaching staff arose a month into the 2012 season. Deggs became UL's hitting coach, and it proved to be a perfect marriage. Something tells me neither Robichaux nor Deggs ever believed the opportunity was totally by chance.

At that time in his life, Deggs needed Robichaux and the Cajuns in a major way.

"Seven years ago, Coach (Robichaux) saved my life," Deggs said. "And he saved my family. I’m here today to say, ‘Thank you Coach.’ We’re here today because of him."

Robichaux always preached you don’t have to be defined by the poor decisions you make in life. He believed in second chances, as long as you were no longer in denial about the sin and were were ready to walk the right path.

"Coach Robe gave me an opportunity when nobody else in the country would give me an opportunity," Deggs said. "Upon my very first meeting with him, the very first thing he told me … see, I was dead folks, I was gone … the very first thing this man told me was, ‘I don’t care what you’ve done.’ He was kind of like that. What I do care about is what you’re going to do.

"And I said, ‘Alright, where do I sign?’ "

And soon, Cajun baseball fans discovered UL needed Deggs, as well.

Deggs’ last season in Lafayette was magical. It was that rare mix of raw talent, chemistry and what Robichaux would call "throw down." The Cajuns went 58-10, rose to a No. 1 national ranking and earned their first national NCAA seed, before falling to Ole Miss in the super regionals.

A month after that memorable season, Deggs left for a head job at Sam Houston State, where he brought so many of the lessons he learned from Robichaux during his redeeming stint in Cajun Country.

To no one’s surprise, Deggs played a key role once again in lifting another program to unforeseen heights.

Spend time examining all the programs he’s run across in his career. He’s made a habit of that.

Deggs has credited UL baseball, and Robichaux, with saving his life. It's clear how much he learned during his time at the Tigue.

"There will no bigger honor in my career … we can win a national championship — fully intend to …  but there will be no bigger honor than having this family ask me to carry coach Robichaux’s torch," Deggs exclaimed. "None.

"I would take a bullet for that man and I knew it within the first week I was around him."

He certainly sounds like Robichaux on occasion. He became a transformational coach, focused on building character and developing good men. He preaches playing with heart and sacrificing for your brother.

He has a series of mini-sermons in his back pocket that he's ready and willing to deliver at the drop of a cap. 

No doubt, Robichaux would endorse most of them.

No doubt, the wisdom for many of them came straight from Robichaux himself.

Like his mentor, he knows how to bring people together with a powerful message.

That's exactly what the UL baseball family needs right now. 

Everyone in the UL community and the baseball world across the country was shocked by the untimely death of the 57-year-old Robichaux.

The program that had played such a big role in transforming Deggs into the man he’s become was hurting. 

"This is the extenuating circumstances of extenuating circumstances," Deggs said. "You have a guy who is an icon and a legend and happens to be my mentor and one of my best friends.

"A guy whose impact was felt coast to coast and then back and then back and then back. It’s like dropping a huge boulder in a small pond. You can’t discount the impact that man made, and to be tabbed to come in behind that … I’m at a loss for words."

More than ever, UL needed him.

Deggs has come full circle. Lifeline repaid.



Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.