There were many stages in Troy Wingerter’s life where he could never have imagined filling the role he currently holds for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns.

The Rummel High of New Orleans product was a standout center and offensive tackle for the Cajuns from 1988-91.

Like so many who loved the game, Wingerter later became an assistant coach for the Cajuns.

But starting in 2011 during the transition from coach Rickey Bustle to Mark Hudspeth, Wingerter’s relationship with football took a different turn.

Suddenly, where he was living was more important than coaching.

In that season, he dipped his foot into the unknown waters of being a director of football operations — more of the office side of college football.

Eight years later, he’s now a veteran in his new profession. He’s even on a 12-member national board for collegiate operations directors.

“I had made the decision before Hud got here that I really wanted to stay in Lafayette,” said Wingerter, who has now worked for each of UL’s five head coaches over the past 23 years. “One of the best parts of being here is being an alum. There’s always that intrinsic motivation that you get. It’s part of you. It’s not just what you do, it’s who you are.”

Prior to the end of the Bustle era, Wingerter began having conversations about filling a different role with the program. But the position Wingerter initially thought he might get disappeared in the athletic director transition between David Walker and Scott Farmer.

“Hud asked me to stick around and help him out and he said he’d try to help me out,” Wingerter said. “I just wanted to stay in Lafayette. Right before Christmas, Hud came to me and said, 'I promise that if you come back and do this for me for one year, I’ll get you back to your regular salary next year.'

“Everything that man promised me, he did. After that, I really felt a sense of loyalty toward Mark, because I had nothing at the time.”

Almost as empty was his understanding of what this new operations position entailed.

“I had no idea if I’d be good at this stuff,” Wingerter said. “I knew I had a thing for logistics. I’m a list-maker. It was great, because I did it for a first-year head coach who had been a head coach before, but never had an operations guy. So the learning curve was easier for me."

Then the true craziness began.

“Trust me, there’s nothing in the manual that prepares you for your plane breaking down in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and having to put your entire team up in a motel that isn’t even open, so you crash for a few hours and get up and eat to fly out,” Wingerter said.

“There’s nothing in a manual that prepares you for pulling out of an airport in Kingsport, Tennessee, and the sewage backs up in all the first-floor rooms in the motel in Banner Elk, North Carolina. and while you’re driving, you move all of your support staff to motels in Boone.”

That first year was also spiced by UL’s first bowl berth since 1970.

“That first bowl trip was insane,” he said. “People would just come out of the woodwork. Every time I turned around, somebody was needing another room, another person, another support staff person. We had never been to a bowl, so nobody knew what to do.

“The (bowl) policy that we use now, I made up as we went along.”

In those moments, a life filled with interesting twists and turns paid off for Wingerter.

“All you can do is just have all of your stuff together and react as things go wrong,” he said.

Somehow, it all makes sense to Gerald Broussard, Wingerter’s offensive line coach at UL three decades ago.

“He’s just a very unique personality and he loves UL,” Broussard said. “Troy’s longevity is a testimony to his intelligence … and the variety of his intelligence.

“I used to tell him all the time that he had a vast array of useless knowledge. But it was a vast array of knowledge nonetheless. He’s just found a way to turn some of that useless knowledge into useful knowledge.”

Broussard’s first impressions of Wingerter were as a tough, talented but heavily opinionated player.

“His intellectual abilities made him a challenge at times but his heart and his desire just made him awesome to coach,” Broussard said. “He was the kind of guy that would challenge you.

“But he was as tough a player as I ever coached. Physically, just tough.”

Broussard recalled a game Wingerter played with a broken hand as a center.

“We were having problems with the snap and we kept bobbling the snap,” he said. “I told him, ‘I don’t care what you do. Just get it back there.’ He snapped it the rest of the game with a broken hand and never said a word, darn near crying every time he snapped it. He was tough, tough.”

But as soon as his playing days were over, Wingerter’s life took the first unique turn.

“All my life I sought to do one thing, that was to play ball,” Wingerter said. “Football was everything that I did. When that was over, I really wanted to go in a direction where nobody knew me and nobody cared about that.”

So he traveled west. He lived in Colorado and Wyoming and Montana. He worked in a bakery and a pizza parlor. He was a bouncer in a club called Double Diamond and a banquet captain at the Silver Tree.

To many, that part of his life didn’t make much sense. Somehow for Wingerter, it did.

“He came in and it took extra time to get a general studies degree and now he’s getting a doctorate (in higher education leadership).

“He was struggling to get a general studies degree and yet he was on college jeopardy. And then he finally graduates and then he’s hanging out in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in a commune setting.”

Even when he finally moved back home, Wingerter was managing clubs on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

He was making lots of money working from 2 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day, but hating life.

“After a while, I starting going to Johnny Whites and having six beers every day to wind down before going home to take a four-hour nap before going back to work,” Wingerter said.

At Johnny White’s bar, he complained about his life circumstances every day. Finally, one day, this guy at the bar handed him a handful of quarters and basically told him to call somebody and do something about, or shut up and stop complaining.

Calling from a pay phone late one Sunday morning, Wingerter found his second bridge to UL football.

“Calling on Brandon (Stokley)’s number because they had already moved the number and (head coach Nelson Stokley) just happened to pick up the phone,” Wingerter said.

Stokley told him if he could get into graduate school, he had the job.

More than two decades later, Wingerter still is involved in UL’s football program, even if it’s not with a whistle in his mouth.

“It’s easier (to coach) from this standpoint, only from this standpoint,” he said. “Nobody has a passion for logistics. You have a passion to coach.”

What Wingerter has these days is a passion for Lafayette and for UL.

Shortly after returning to Lafayette, Wingerter rode his bicycle from his apartment at Bayou Shadows to the Festival Acadiens.

“I was watching this young African-American guy and this old white lady dancing the jitterbug and having the time of their life and I said, ‘This is where I want to live for the rest of my life,’” Wingerter said.

“I didn’t know that as a player. When I was a player, I was a New Orleans kid. I thought I was too cool for that stuff.”

That loyalty to Cajun Country and UL’s program still drives him every day.

“Yes, I make a good living at it, but the total motivation for this job is to make a better life for the players and the coaches and for the greater honor and glory for the Vermilion and White,” he said. “I just want us to be successful.

“I don’t get any accolades. I’ve been here for 24 years. No one’s ever given me an award for anything. I don’t want an award. I want us to be successful. I want the school to be as strong as it can possibly be.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.