Tony Robichaux was one of a kind
To fully understand the impact University of Louisiana baseball coach and Crowley native Tony Robichaux had on people during his lifetime, all one has to do is look back at the number of stories on the websites of two of the state’s largest newspapers following Robichaux’s untimely death last week from complications following a heart attack.
Over 20 stories, all quoting former players, coaches, friends and everyday people touched by Robichaux over his 57 years on Earth, were posted on the two papers’ website last Saturday.
By Monday, a day after thousands waited patiently in line for nearly an hour to pay their last respects in the Lafayette Convention Center, the count was even higher.
Let that sink in.
Even long-time media members were left scratching their heads, hard-pressed to recall a similar use of so much ink — virtual or otherwise — praising one local individual after their death.
Nope, can’t remember one.
Ummm, ‘fraid not.
Nada, not even the biggest.
But here we had a self-prescribed “simple” man, “a good ‘ol boy from Crowley,” who saw himself as a servant, a man fortunate to do something he loved (coach baseball); a man who dedicated his life to God and family, a man who helped repair and mold young and old lives alike and a man who was the epitome of a “good man” and how one should lead his life......
Well, there it was, everywhere: Robichaux’s story and his impact on other’s lives all over the media and social media, many of those stories invoking tears, others smiles.
It was in print media, social media, television, radio.
It was unprecedented!
And the common thread through them all: Respect.
“We all called him coach, but really, he was a mentor,” former UL pitcher Gunner Leger said in a story in the Daily Advertiser. “Never was there a time when he did not impart some form of wisdom on you, regardless if the conversation lasted a few minutes or a few hours.”
Many others shared similar feelings and thoughts.
Former player Ken Meyers, for instance, called him “a prophet in his own town.”
“He sees guys (other coaches) for five or 10 minutes and yet he makes a significant impact on them,” Meyers said at a prayer vigil for Robichaux on July 2. “They walk away thinking: ‘How does this guy live that kind of lifestyle? He’s very public with his beliefs, morals and values.’”
How did he do it?
Simple. It came naturally. It came from the influence of his parents, Ray and the late Sylvia Robichaux, and his belief in a higher power.
Ray, a co-owner of Robichaux Meat Market before retiring, taught all of his children the same ideals: to love God, love family, be stern in their beliefs, to work hard and help others.
Tony embraced that sage advice and took it to new levels, adding a twist that became known as “Robeisms.”
Some of those Robeisms were priceless:
• “Ego stands for edging God out.”
• “Nothing is ever good or bad: It’s how you respond that makes it good or bad.”
• “Never get into an argument with someone smarter or dumber than you because you’ll lose every time.”
• “Hope is not a plan.”
• “Nowhere in the Bible does it say how to be a great baseball player. But it’s pretty clear what kind of man you should become.”
• “Teach them how to live right side up in an upside-down world.”
• “Fix you first.”
There are countless others, of course.
But perhaps his most memorable Robeism was one he used many times and one that no doubt was NOT a favorite with mothers and fathers of travel team players who envisioned their youngsters headed for stardom.
“We (Cajuns) want guys that drink out the water hose, not the guys whose mommy brings them Powerade in the third inning,” he’d said in one form or another.
It was classic Robichaux.
“You should have seen some of the parents’ faces when he said that at our banquet,” a friend once said.
That one went viral.
And that was Robichaux, or “Robe” as everyone liked to refer to him.
He told it like it was.
Plain and simple.
There was no cutting corners.
There were no concessions when it came to breaking rules.
It wasn’t just baseball to him. It was more about learning life and life’s tough lessons.
To him, it was simply: Do it right or pay the consequences.
It made you a man ... a better man.
And, yeah, sure, it was old school.
Heck, he didn’t know what political correctness was.
And to be truthful, he didn’t care.
There was no bending rules for wins. That’s just the way it was.
And, in a move that proved the point better than any perhaps — that he didn’t simply talk the talk but he walked the walk — there was an instance in 2001, the year after he took his 2000 team to the College World Series.
That instance made it clear Robichaux meant what he said and said what he meant.
One of his top returnees that year from that World Series team, pitcher Justin Gabriel, broke team rules and as Robichaux said back then, he “embarrassed” the program.
The consequence for Gabriel: A one-year suspension.
There were no ifs, ands or buts.
One year! Off the team!
Not surprisingly, the Cajuns struggled without Gabriel, not even making the conference tournament. And Gabriel, saddled by Robichaux with a strict set of rules to work his way back onto the team, struggled as well.
But Gabriel, to his credit, did not leave the Cajuns program. He didn’t transfer.
And he easily could have ... with Robichaux’s help and blessing.
But out of respect for the man who gave him a chance to begin with on the Division I level (Robichaux), Gabriel stayed in school in Lafayette and returned to have an All-Sunbelt Conference year the following season.
Today, Gabriel is a molder of young men as a coach in the state of Washington, much like the man who taught him and gave him a second chance.
That’s just one of the stories about Robichaux the man.
There are countless others, of course, as exemplified by the number of stories in newspapers, on websites and blogs and interviews on radio and television stations.
“With Tony, it was never about him,” said Dan McDonald, a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer who was Robichaux’s Sports Information Director at UL for many years. “Tony made it a point to always pass on praise to others and he always gave God all the credit. You hear that from a lot of people, but when it came from Tony, it was sincere.”
“We all have a chance with Christ, because what we do should not become who we are,” Robichaux once said. “And that’s our biggest trouble in life is that what we do starts to become who we are.
“I’m a baseball coach, that is it. That is who I am. I’m a good ‘ol boy from Crowley with a health and physical education degree. I am no better than you.”
Oh, but he was.....
In his so many ways.
The bottom line this week as we reflect on Tony’s life is this: When God called Tony home, he broke the mold.
That may sound like another cliché, but it is simply a fact.
There will be other coaches, other mentors, to follow him, but there will never be another Tony Robichaux.
He was that special kind of individual — an inspiration to everyone he came in contact with — who comes along oh so rarely in this chaotic world of ours.
The hearts, minds and lives he touched simply cannot be counted.
He was one of a kind.
And he will be greatly missed.