Right Man, Right Time – From the Bird’s Nest
It was, without question, the most emotional press conference in Ragin' Cajuns history.
It came under circumstances no one ever wanted to fathom.
Yet, here we were. We were about to announce the new head coach of Ragin' Cajuns baseball.
Matt Deggs walked into the Stadium Club. He made sure his wife, three children and his mom and dad were seated. Then he walked over to the Robichaux family. He embraced Colleen for a long time. I couldn't figure out who had cut onions right next to me. My eyes watered as he hugged Tony's daughter Ashley, two of Tony's grandchildren, Tony's son in law Lon, then Austin, then Justin and his wife Leigh Anne.
I thought I heard a sob from the crowd. I wasn't sure it wasn't me.
Assistant AD for Communications and Digital Strategy Patrick Crawford introduced Athletic Director Dr. Bryan Maggard. Evidently Patrick left one of the onions on the dais.
We then saw a side of Bryan Maggard we hadn't seen before.
In perhaps his toughest two weeks as an athletic director, Maggard did what he does best. He focused. When news of Tony's heart attack spread, the Cajuns' AD made sure he was there for the family. After Tony's passing, Maggard helped to coordinate the visitation. He called every single player on the team, including those who would be joining the team in the fall. He assured them the University would be there for them. He assured them they were loved and he would work hard to find the next leader for this baseball team. He continued to show his love and support for the family.
Then he sought out the next man to lead the program.
He looked to young men like Gavin Bourgeois, Brennan Breaux and Hayden Cantrelle for their input. But from the beginning it was pretty clear who Maggard was targeting. Yet there were obstacles. Did Matt Deggs want the job? Could they make the numbers work, salary wise? Throughout, Maggard remained focused.
Now, with the job completed, Maggard stood before the crowd.
And, he showed he was human.
Three different times he had to stop to compose himself. Someone cut another onion next to me. He presented Colleen, Ashley and Coach Deggs' mother with flowers. It was especially difficult when he thanked his wife Kerry for her support. He said he owes her some quality time. Kerry Maggard is a stud.
Then it was time to introduce Matt Deggs.
They posed for the obligatory pictures with the jersey number 28.
Deggs went to the podium and paid tribute to the man who he says saved his life.
Where in the world had all these onions come from?
He got the crowd to laugh when he told the story of looking for a sign from God as to what course to take. The preacher opened with a Boudreaux and Thibodeaux joke (they were from Crowley). A young woman addressed him after the service. She was a former UL soccer player. Deggs had his answer.
He spoke of the future. He made it clear he was there to take the Cajuns to heights only seen in 2000. His blue collar attitude resonated well with those in attendance.
Naturally, he had to throw in a Robe-ism. He talked about people who sat down when it was time to stand up. He vowed to stand up and challenged Cajun Nation to do the same. They would walk "hand in hand through the gates of Omaha...cuz' that's where we're headed."
Everyone in attendance looked for a wall to run through.
I got a chance to visit with the Robichaux family afterward. They were smiling. This is what Tony would have wanted, they said.
In a previous piece, I wrote about what Dr. Maggard had to look for in a new coach. He needed a man with a good moral compass. He needed a man who would put the student and the person before the player. He needed a man to continue Tony's desire to mold men. And, he needed a man who understood the culture of Cajuns' baseball.
But with Matt Deggs, he got something more.
The Cajuns' baseball team and the Cajuns' fan base was, and is, emotionally broken. They needed an equally broken man to lead them; a man who was hurting as much as they were over an unfathomable loss. Someone to relate to so they could all heal together.
That made the list of candidates narrowed to one.
They got the right man. At the right time.