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Athletics: A tale of two Cajun OWI arrests

Tim Buckley, December 20, 2015

They are two wildly successful programs, working within the same University of Louisiana at Lafayette athletic department.

Since their 2015 seasons ended with NCAA Super Regional appearances, each has had one student-athlete arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

One, sophomore All-Sun Belt Conference second baseman Haley Hayden, will play again in 2016. The other, junior relief pitcher Colton Lee, will not.

The discrepancy is a product of two coaches taking  contrasting punishment approaches, each doing so with what he passionately believes to be the best interest of his player in mind — and without passing judgement on how the other handles such matters.

That’s possible because while the UL athletic department does have a standard discipline policy for student-athletes charged with felonies, it essentially allows individual coaches to address misdemeanor arrests as they see fit.

“They have to make it work for their team, you know?” UL athletic director Scott Farmer said.

“I know on the surface you’d say, ‘Well, that’s treating them different.’ No. The other person is not in that program.”

Based on how relatively few issues the two have had to deal with during their decades on the job, UL baseball coach Tony Robichaux and Ragin’ Cajuns softball coach Michael Lotief do seem to make it work.

One, Robichaux, takes the game away for a season, in hopes that a lengthy period of reflection helps the offender and his teammates make better decisions the next time temptation rears its ugly head.

“We work until we’re blue in the face about this issue,” Robichaux said of drinking and driving.

“I’m not stupid enough to believe that there aren’t other guys that have lucked off, and he (Lee) is the only one. But we’re trying to get them tough enough to be a real man, and call somebody — or not get behind the wheel. Crawl home if you’ve got to.

“There’s a lot of ways today. … There’s too many ways to make a good decision,” he added. “If you’re gonna drink, you shouldn’t drive. That’s the end of it.”

One such option, before a turn of the key results in a click of cuffs?

“I’ll come get you personally as your head coach, and then tomorrow we’ll work everything out,” Robichaux said. “He (Lee) could have called somebody, and he chose not to.”

Lotief prefers to keep someone in trouble as close to the program as possible.

“Haley Hayden isn’t a good kid. Haley Hayden is a great kid, a great kid who made a mistake,” he said. “We’re dealing with it. I don’t condone what she did, but I’m going to support my kids. I still believe in that kid 150 percent.

“I’m sure some will criticize my methods on this issue and I understand the criticism, but in my heart, I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Due process

Hayden was arrested early last June, a couple weekends after UL’s softball season ended with a Super Regional loss at Auburn.

“I didn’t consider suspending her (for the season), because that’s never been our policy,” Lotief said of him and his wife Stefni Lotief, UL’s former co-head coach and current athletic development director.

“In 15 years, we’ve had a handful of (OWIs) and we’ve never (done that). We’ve always handled it internally. There were consequences, but we handled them on a case-by-case basis.”

UL softball Michael Lotief returns to the dugout duringBuy Photo

UL softball Michael Lotief returns to the dugout during a game against Hofstra in the Ragin’ Cajuns Invitational earlier this year. (Photo: Paul Kieu, The Advertiser)

Lotief, who prefers flexibility for individual coaches, is happy he can.

Hayden is too.

“I know I made a mistake and I accept responsibility and continue to pay the consequences,” she said in an emailed statement. “Nobody condones drinking and driving. I’ve learned and grown from it. It was a learning lesson for the whole team.

“Thankfully my team and coach and sisters and the university family stood with me and helped and supported me through a tough time.

“I don’t know if I would’ve gotten through this stronger and wiser if I was kicked off the team,” Hayden added. “I understand there are rules and consequences and 99 percent of the time I do what’s right. When I slip up, I’m thankful there is forgiveness and second chances and belief in the goodness of the human spirit to grow and learn and get better.”

Lotief did not disclose details of how Hayden was punished, but did suggest there’s been lots of talking and lots of crying.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like any coach can just do whatever he or she wants to do,” he said. “We’re still accountable to the administration.

“We have to say why we’re handling it the way we’re handling it. This university would not be supportive of a coach just doing whatever he wants to do without any explanation or without being held accountable.”

Lotief addressed why Hayden will not sit out the season.

His approach is largely shaped by a personal battle with throat cancer when he was around the same age as Hayden.

“Without a support structure around me, there’s no way I would have made it,” he said. “It’s impossible. No way.

“If I didn’t have school, if I didn’t have my recreational activities, if I didn’t have my (rec) team to coach, if I didn’t have my job, if I didn’t my family, if I didn’t have people around me to support me, there was no way I’m gonna survive.”

He wants to keep Hayden tied to the team, and he wants to allow the legal case to run its course.

“I’ve just never believed in suspending a player without due process,” Lotief said.

“Tony (Robichaux) obviously believes differently than me on this issue. … That’s fine. I have all the respect in the world for Tony Robichaux.

“What he does works for his program and the way we handle it works for our program,” Lotief added. “Just look at the results of both programs.”

UL second baseman Haley Hayden (35) makes the throwBuy Photo

UL second baseman Haley Hayden (35) makes the throw to first base for an against Hofstra earlier this year. (Photo: Paul Kieu, The Advertiser)

Robichaux, who notched his 1,000th career win last season, has taken his Cajuns to the NCAA Tournament 11 times in 21 seasons, including the 2000 College World Series.

Lotief has taken UL to the NCAA Tournament 13 straight times.

Neither has had to deal with excessive discipline issues.

“Tony has a great program and we’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of success as well,” Lotief said. “I don’t feel like we’ve got some out-of-control program full of problem kids.”

Building character

Robichaux’s policy is firm.

Get arrested for any misdemeanor crime, including OWI, or fail any drug test, and a student-athlete has two choices. One is to transfer to another school. The other is to serve a one-year suspension, then return the next season.

“Baseball is taken away from you,” he said.

The idea, Robichaux added, “is to give (the offender) an opportunity to show his teammates, his coaching staff, himself and his family how much this sport really means to him.”

The student-athlete who stays can continue to work with UL athletic department’s academic center, but he cannot practice or work out with the team.

“I take it personal,” said Robichaux, who makes his players aware of his policy long before they sign with the program.

“I try to get them to understand that having fun in college is good, but I don’t think you should ever be arrested.”

Drunken driving, however, hits especially hard for Robichaux, who in 1998 spent hours upon hours at the hospital bedside of a walk-on player, pitcher Eric Searcy.

Just hours after learning he had made the Cajun roster, Searcy was a passenger in a vehicle that was struck by a multiple-time OWI offender.

He was left paralyzed.

“If you want my 100-percent honest opinion,” said Searcy, who to this day remains confined to a wheelchair, “Coach Robichaux cares more about building character in his players than he does about winning baseball games.”

That’s why his policy is what it is.

“Our biggest fight in our personal life is pleasure vs. happiness,” Robichaux said. “Society … wants them to choose the pleasure route. Be pleasured for one night.

“I want them to be tough enough to make a decision, and not to chase the pleasure route. And that night (Lee) made that decision. So I also take some blame, because I’m trying to make them strong enough to do that.

“His fastball didn’t get him in trouble. His breaking ball didn’t get him in trouble,” Robichaux added. “It’s the decisions they make as men. That’s what gets him in trouble.”

Lee was arrested for OWI in November, after he failed to signal while making a turn.

It was just the third similar arrest for a Cajun baseball player in 20-plus years with Robichaux as their coach — two for drunken driving, one for drugs.

By his accounting, that’s three too many.

UL infielder Evan Powell (22) celebrates with pitcherBuy Photo

UL infielder Evan Powell (22) celebrates with pitcher Colton Lee (19) during an NCAA Regional game against Rice Owls in Houston earlier this year. (Photo: Paul Kieu, The Advertiser)

“I want them to surely understand …a that baseball’s gonna be taken away from you if you do this, this and this,” Robichaux said. “A late grade-check folder? I’m not gonna take baseball from you. … But when you’re arrested?

“What we hope he does — and we know Colton will — is get a second chance to show people who he really is. … If he had killed himself, or if he had killed somebody else, would we think the policy’s too stiff?

“You don’t know if … this could be his first step to alcoholism,” the Cajun coach added. “We’re also in a community, and a state, where alcohol is very prevalent. … My whole goal in this is not to have this (issue arise) if we don’t have to, and to save a life.”

If it happened that a false arrest was made in any case, Robichaux suggested he would consider that.


“If your dad gets it fixed, or you know the D.A. and they fix it,” he said, “you’re still suspended. You got arrested.”

If the suspended player transfers, so be it, Robichaux figures.

That happened in 2012, when standout pitcher Caleb Kellogg was charged with OWI, the Cajuns’ first such situation in more than a decade.

He transferred to the University of Tampa for one season and played on an NCAA Division II national-championship team, was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 17th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft and pitched this past season at the Class A level.

Lee, however, has chosen to stay and sit out 2016.

“He’s got a lot of people who’ll take him,” Robichaux said, “and give you the ol’ slogan, ‘I believe everybody deserves a second chance.’ No, you want a good relief pitcher.

“We finally got some parents that said, ‘My son is gonna live this out. He made a mistake. We’re gonna hold him accountable. We’re not gonna go see if the policy is ‘legal.’ ”

Robichaux appreciates that.

“My whole thing is whether it’s ‘legal’ or not, I really don’t care,” he said. “I really don’t. … What I care about is turning them into a man.”

 A phone call away

It was on a Friday in the first week of November that Robichaux gathered his team, just like he does most Fridays when school is in session.

The coach delivered the message he so often does.

“We try to teach them how to be stronger than the drugs and stronger than the alcohol,” Robichaux said.

“That’s our ultimate goal here: To turn him from a boy into a man, and get him to understand his body can bring a life into the world with a girl, and his car can take life out of this world.”

Robichaux, whose Cajuns were bounced from last year’s Super Regional by LSU, didn’t like the looks he was getting.

“That Friday … a bunch of them were shaking their heads,” he said. “And I said, ‘Stop shaking your head, and patronizing us with your head, and affirm us with your heart. There’s a difference.”

That same weekend, Lee was arrested.

Every Friday and Saturday night, Robichaux falls asleep with the cell phone resting within arm’s reach on his nightstand and the ringer on loud.

He hopes not to be awoken, and rarely is.

If a call is made, and a ride is needed, though, Robichaux will respond. It’s when the arrest already has been made that it’s too late.

“They know they’re playing with a coach who is not gonna ‘fix’ anything,” he said.

In this instance, Lee knew not to call afterward.

He also knew he could not avoid the inevitable.

“I had to go talk to him,” Lee said, adding he was overwhelmed by “the thought of letting him down, and letting my family down, letting my teammates down, the fans and all of the boosters and everyone who’s a part of this down, because it’s just not one of those things I typically would ever want to do.

“It’s just one of those things where I made a quick decision, and it obviously was the wrong decision. I’ve never been that type of person to make a decision to drink and then drive. I’ve always been the one to tell people, ‘Hey, call me if you need me,’ because I’m not gonna be drinking or anything like that.

“It was just that instance in that one night where I made a bad decision to drink, and then made the decision to ultimately drive,” Lee added, “and it cost me.”


“He took the short-term pleasure,” Robichaux said. “Now he’s living out long-term misery.”

Lee is not alone, however.

“I feel I failed, if you really want to know the truth,” Robichaux said. “I’m the leader.”

Robichaux hopes his players not only know “we have a policy and (that) ‘Coach is not gonna back down.’ ” His much-bigger hope: that “they understand the ‘why.’ ”

Coaches’ discretion

At UL, the misconduct policy for a sub-felony offense really does vary.

For a felony, according to a policy statement obtained from the athletic department, “absent extraordinary circumstances as determined by the administration,” the student-athlete “will not be permitted to represent the University in game competition until such time as the charge is resolved and all court, University and Athletic Department conditions for reinstatement have been met.”

Misdemeanor charges and the subsequent discipline, however, “will be handled by the head coach after review by the Director of Athletics, relative to circumstance, background, as well as current and past deportment of the student-athlete involved.”

It’s primarily up to each coach, in other words.

Some Cajun coaches are as steadfast as Robichaux, some not so much.

“Coaches can have more restrictive rules than our departmental policy,” athletic director Farmer said. “That is correct. And Tony’s (Robichaux’s) is very strict. It always has been.”

Always will be, too.


"Go ask Searcy’s parents. … They’re not gonna say this policy is too tough,” Robichaux said.

He’ll never forget what happened to the pitcher, now 35 years old, whose college playing career was over practically before it began.

“This kid (Lee) who got the (OWI) — some might look at (having to sit out the season) as ‘Hey, this is an inconvenience,’ and, ‘This could hurt his career,’ ” Searcy said.

“You want to talk about an inconvenience? Come talk to my parents, who still have to take care of me to this day, help me every morning get in my shower chair, and bathe me, and put me in my bed, and get me dressed. That’s an inconvenience; not being suspended from the game for a year.”

 Sports engagement editor Kevin Foote contributed to this report.


Junior pitcher, UL baseball team

Pearl River Central High (Mississippi), Pearl River (Mississippi) Community College

OWI arrest: November, 2015

Case disposition: Not yet adjudicated

Team punishment: Suspended for 2016


Sophomore second baseman, UL softball team

West Monroe High

OWI arrest: June, 2015

Case disposition: Not yet adjudicated

Team punishment: Details undisclosed, but will be permitted to play in 2016