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Shocked coaching community has ultimate respect for UL coach who suffered heart attack

Kevin Foote, The Advocate, July 4, 2019

Longtime UL baseball coach Tony Robichaux is certainly one of the most respected head coaches in the history of the Ragin’ Cajuns athletic department.

But neither that high level of respect or the shock of the news of his current medical condition is confined to Cajun Country.

In some ways, it may be even higher in the coaching community.

The 57-year-old Robichaux suffered a heart attack June 23 and underwent open-heart surgery at Lafayette General Hospital on Monday. On Friday, it was announced Robichaux had been moved to the Oschner Health Center in New Orleans, two days before having a second heart surgery.

Sunday’s report listed Robichaux in critical condition.

As the news of Robichaux’s condition has spread in the coaching community, so has the concern.

“I just can’t believe it,” said Barbe High head coach Glenn Cecchini, who was a roommate and teammate of Robichaux at UL in the early 1980s. “I’m just kind of in shock about it. I’ve been praying for his family. It’s just unbelievable to me.”

“It’s disheartening,” Southeastern head coach Matt Riser said. “It kind of makes your stomach turn a little bit – only 57 years old and having these complications. It should make us all appreciate things a little bit more.”

LSU coach Paul Mainieri was also shaken by the news.

"It’s with a great deal of sadness that I even have to comment on Tony’s condition," Mainieri said. "When I heard the news, it was obviously shocking information to hear. Not that long ago, we were coaching against each other in the Wally Pontiff Jr. game. We visited before the (Wally Pontiff) game (in April) and I’ve always had such great respect for Tony. He’s a man of great faith. He cares about the right things. He’s a great molder of young men.

"When something like this happens, you understand how fragile and precious life is. I can assure you everybody in the LSU family is praying for Tony’s recovery and hoping he’s back to full healthy quickly and hopefully he can get back on the baseball field quickly as well. Right now, I’m just heartbroken about the condition he’s in and my prayers and thoughts go out to him and his family and all the UL family, because I know how well regarded Robe is."

Many of Cecchini’s players have been recruited by Robichaux over the years, so he knows first hand about his character-developing skills as a coach.

“I have the utmost respect for him,” Cecchini said. “I know everybody does. He’s an unbelievable human being.

"He’s such a strong Christian man. He teaches so many lessons about life. Really his winning on the field is just a byproduct of him doing things right and teaching these guys life lessons through baseball – molding young men. What he’s done to mold good Christian young men over the years has been incredible. He’s a better man than he is a baseball coach and he’s a great baseball coach.”

It certainly didn’t take Arkansas State coach Tommy Raffo long to develop a good impression of Robichaux when he entered the Sun Belt Conference 11 years ago.

“When I think of Tony, I think of first class,” Raffo said. “How he treats people — no matter if you’re a coach for 25 years or a first-year coach. As a first-year coach when I came into the league, I know that’s how I was personally treated by him and I’ll never forget that.

“That’s part of the way he is. It says a lot about who he is and how he respects the game and how he respects everybody who’s tries to play the game. That meant so much to be personally.”

Raffo suggested the respect for Robichaux runs across the league.

“He’s an icon,” Raffo said. “If you think of Sun Belt baseball, you think of Tony Robichaux. As coaches, we look up to him. When he speaks, we listen. He has so much patience and time for all of us as coaches. He’s all about improving and getting better.

“When we get to together or we play against each other, the knowledge he has and his willingness to help and share is just unbelievable. You listen to every word and you’re on edge to find out more about the right thing to do – the do and don’ts.”

South Alabama coach Mark Calvi first crossed paths with Robichaux as a pitching coach at Florida International from 1999-2004 and then since 2011 when he returned to the league after six seasons at South Carolina.

“As a pitching coach, he’s one of the best,” Calvi said. “He’s done it for so long. I saw a lot of his teams in my different stints in the Sun Belt. His pitching staffs have set the standard nationally and in the Sun Belt. They’ve been known to have such great teams, but pitching has been the calling card and that’s a reflection of their coach.”

Few coaches have influenced him more than Robichaux, who began coaching UL in 1995.

“He’s been a guy that I’ve admired from afar and from up close in how he conducted himself and how his team conducted itself,” Calvi said. “He conducts himself with dignity and grace and class and composure. His teams are a reflection of all of those qualities. And honestly I’ve tried to model this program after him, because in my opinion, he’s the gold standard of the Sun Belt.

“That’s not only as a coach but as a person. He’s the gold standard person in the league. I hope the league understands how fortunate it is to have him involved for so long.”

Riser said Robichaux possesses unique personality traits.

“He’s truly the ultimate package,” Riser said. “Off the field, he’s about as humble and down-to-earth as they come. He’s always willing to share and do anything to make our game better. But at the same time, when you get in between the lines, he’s the biggest competitor you’re going to find.

“In all honestly, that’s what I try to instill in our student athletes. It’s hard to find that personality who is both the ultimate competitor but also the humble, laid-back guy who is always ready to service every person he’s around. There’s not enough good things I can say about him.”