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Athletics: UL finishes out 2018-19 athletic school year that fell below Bryan Maggard's established

Kevin Foote, The Acadiana Advocate, May 27, 2019

When Bryan Maggard sits in the stands watching his UL Ragin’ Cajuns play, he’s wearing several hats at the same time.

Professionally, he’s the school’s athletic director.

He’s also a fan and at times admits he thinks and reacts like any UL fan.

“I’m as passionate as they come, almost to a fault,” Maggard said. “I tell people all the time, and I’m not proud of this, but I dislike losing more than I like winning. As so yes, I get frustrated. My wife will be the first to tell you that I’m in a little bit different mood after a loss.”

In effect, Maggard is also a booster … a fan with more inside knowledge of the teams he’s following than the average fan.

“I also do have the benefit sometimes of knowing what’s really going on in certain situations that the average person doesn’t,” he said.

And yes, he’s also a friend to the athletic department’s coaches and athletes, allowing him to view their performances with compassion at times.

“As much as losing hurts us and frustrates us, I promise you it pales in comparison to the coaches and the student athletes,” Maggard said. “Nobody wants to win more than those two groups.”

But no matter which hat he’s wearing, Maggard has one standard ... one overriding expectation.

“We just want to make sure we’re owning where we live,” Maggard said. “We live in the Sun Belt, so we want to own it and dominate it and that’ll be something we’ll pursue every day.”

The 2018-19 school year didn’t produce those kind of results.

For the first time since the Cajuns joined the Sun Belt Conference in the 1991-92 school year, only one UL team finished among the top three in the Sun Belt in the overall standings – the 25-0 softball squad.

The football team did win the Western Division race, but had the fourth-best league record overall.

Is Maggard happy with those results? Certainly not.

“I expect us to dominate and we just don’t do that right now,” Maggard said. “I tell our coaches, ‘We’re not dominating and we need to be.’ If we ever want to be taken out of that conversation of just being one of the teams in the mix, one way to get around all that is to step up and dominate.”

But as clear as that goal is, if you’re an angry fan expecting a frustrated Maggard to start firing a bunch of his head coaches as a knee-jerk reaction to the fan part of his personality, think again.

“We don’t knee-jerk, that’s wrong,” Maggard said. “Now, do I get frustrated? Absolutely. Am I passionate about our sports programs? Absolutely. Do I want them to win? Absolutely. But before we’d make a drastic decision on anything, we’re going to take a lot of things into consideration.”

The one coach who was replaced this season was Lance Key replacing Scott Wieland in women's soccer.

Perhaps one reason for the stability is this disappointing school year follows a successful 2017-18 version where two programs (men’s basketball, tennis) won league titles, one finished second (softball) and one third (volleyball, including second in the West). And that doesn’t even include baseball, which won the West race but was fifth overall.

Another big reason for Maggard’s level-headed approach is knowledge of the circumstances. During this school year, critical injuries impacted outcomes.

Coach Tony Robichaux’s baseball team struggled to a 28-31, 15-15 record with an unusually high list of players disabled for long stretches.

Consequently, the athletic director doesn’t think less of Robichaux’s ability to lead the program.

“Absolutely not,” Maggard said. “We’ll sit down and we’ll review. With coach Robe, I think he’s the eighth-winningest active coach in America. The man has forgotten more about baseball than most of us will ever know. I have a tremendous amount of faith in him. I’m excited to sit with him and delve into what we need to do to get you back on the winning track and be as successful as he can be.”

In men’s basketball, guard/forward Malik Marquetti’s injury derailed coach Bob Marlin’s master plan.

“Once again, you lose arguably your best player,” Maggard said. “But that situation provided an opportunity for somebody else to step up and JaKeenan (Gant) did. Now would have it been nice to have Coby (Julien) and Malik and JaKeenan? If things would have worked out like Bob planned from a roster management standpoint, I think we would have had another special season like the year before. I really do, but the injury bug hit us on two of those three individuals.

“We just have to find a way to plug those holes and get better.”

Women’s basketball was also decimated by the medical list throughout the season, including the team’s point guard in Jasmine Thomas and top defender Kim Burton.

“That was another sport that was plagued with some injuries, but Garry and I talked in his review, though, that even though they had some key injuries, we had some losses that still don’t make sense and were unacceptable,” Maggard said.

Then there’s the scenario of the softball team enjoying a 52-6 record, but falling short of its ultimate goal during a regional loss at Ole Miss.

“So when we don’t quite achieve maybe what we thought we could or had the opportunity to do so, sometimes I take that a little bit personally and I  and I question myself,” Maggard said. “ ‘OK, what more do I need to do to get those coaches and programs the things they need to reach that higher pinnacle?’ Sometimes it’s talent on the field or the court. So is there something I can do from a resource standpoint to make sure they have the talent they need to finish at a high level.”

Even though the department lacked the usual amount of top three-finishes in the Sun Belt standings this past school year, that doesn’t mean there weren’t bright spots.

For example, Billy Napier’s first season in football was more than encouraging, Gant delivered one of the best individual seasons in basketball’s history and Lamson Park continues to be one of the best atmospheres in college softball.

“Do I think we had some bright moments? Absolutely,” Maggard said. “I was very, very happy with what coach Napier accomplished in his first season. Certainly, what coach (Gerry) Glasco did in softball was unbelievably special given all the extenuating circumstances that program went through. What Mark Jeffery did in tennis, he had a great year overall. Tennis didn’t finish like he or we wanted to, but he set a win mark in the sport of men’s tennis. What track and field has accomplished this year, making great strides. I’m very pleased with where that program’s come from since I’ve been here. So we’re making progress.

“At the end of the day, I think there were some highs, but there were certainly some areas that we know we’ve got to do better.”

UL 2018-19 Athletic Year in Review

Baseball — Eighth in Sun Belt race (28-31, 15-15).

Basketball — Fifth (19-13, 10-8).

Men’s Cross country — Fifth

Football — Fourth (first in West; 7-7, 5-3)

Men’s tennis — Fifth (21-10, 3-4)

Indoor men’s track — Fourth

Outdoor men’s track — Sixth

Golf — Ninth

Women’s basketball — 10th (7-23, 5-13)

Women’s cross country — 11th

Women’s soccer — 10th (3-12-3, 2-7-1)

Softball — First (52-6, 25-0)

Women’s tennis — 11th (6-14, 1-8)

Volleyball — Eighth (fifth in West; 15-15, 7-9)

Indoor women’s track — Fifth

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