Cador legacy continues after 28 years at Southern

John Dupont
Southern coaching legend Roger Cador

College baseball season ended nearly two months ago, but it did not mean the start of vacation time for Roger Cador.

It doesn’t mean things got any easier, either. At the time of this interview, the Southern University head coach was a little weary-eyed from his return flight from another scouting trip.

Don’t think for a second that it put him in a foul mood.

The 28-year-coaching veteran – now regarded nationally as one of the elite figures in college baseball – would not have it any other way.

“To be successful, you have to stay mobile,” Cador said. “You have to see different places and recruit in different territories.”

Cador reaped many rewards for his work. He has coached 14 teams to the NCAA regional playoffs – a rare feat not only for a historically African-American college but also for any small university.

The plaques that line the walls in his office at F.G. Clark Activity Center signify a successful coaching career. But Cador’s motivation extends far beyond wins and losses.

The Ventress native prefers to use his position to help give young players an opportunity.

“God gave me a sense of volunteerism to make the world a better place,” Cador said. “It’s not easy for me when I’m thinking about myself – in fact, it’s hard for me to jump up and have any motivation to do it.

“When it involves someone else, it’s a different story,” he said. “I just jump up, and everything feels easy.”

A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS

It’s not to say Cador hasn’t had to help himself at times. He inherited a bare-bone program when he became coach in 1984.

“When I took this job on Aug. 8, 1984, my wife and I just sat down, and I said I don’t have a lot to work with,” he said. “She told me I had a lot of friends.”

Cador contacted his friend, Dusty Baker, a player-turned-manager he met during his time with the Atlanta Braves (1973-77).

“At the time, Dusty was the hitting coach with San Francisco, but he took me to Atlanta, and they gave me so much equipment I needed a U-Haul,” he said. “The Braves put all this stuff on the floor and told me to take what I wanted. It was incredible.”

He didn’t mind that he begged for help, mainly because it benefitted his players.

“When you don’t have something, you shouldn’t be too proud to ask,” Cador said. “I didn’t do that for me – it was for the players.

“That’s how I got things going,” he said. "I had the ability to be sincere and admit when I needed help.”

He also inherited a ballpark that barely qualified as such. From the rickety wooden bleachers down to a backstop that consisted of 2-by-4s and wire, Cador knew he faced an uphill battle.

The Jaguars now play in a larger – though still modest – ballpark on The Bluffs.

“At one time, we had no field to practice on, but we managed,” Cador said. “But the players believed in me and through the grace of God, I knew I had a dream.

“Looking back, it’s helped because it taught them how to be successful,” he said. “Martin Luther King dreamed and made the world a better place by embracing their dreams – and I want my players to do the same.”

NOT UNTIL 14 …

Education itself was something of a dream for Cador.

Cador’s childhood consisted of little play and much work. As the son of a sharecropper, Cador could only attend school in winter because of the demands of field labor.

He would run to town to get a copy of the daily newspaper so he could keep up with the events around him.

By the time he reached 14, he decided he needed a change.

“I convinced my dad I needed to go to school,” Cador said. “It’s a scar knowing you’re ill-equipped in terms of education.”

He graduated in 1969 from Rosenwald High School and attended Southern University.

“I was ill-equipped, but God was good to me,” Cador said.

While at Southern, he met Arthur “Buck” Jones, who took him under his wing. Jones helped Cador move past the belief that he was ill-suited for college.

“Buck told me we’d take all our classes together,” Cador said. “He tutored me and made me work.

“It wasn’t the easiest road, but it was beautiful,” he said. “I didn’t take anything for granted.”

A DETOUR …

Cador found his way to Major League Baseball after his days playing for Southern.. He reached the AAA ranks as an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves but opted to pursue his education and earn his degree.

He retired in 1977 to continue his college education.

He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Health and Physical Education and a master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling in 1979.

Cador credited former New York Jets linebacker Godwin Turk – whom he met while he played baseball -- for his decision to make education his top priority.

“He had a heart-to-heart talk with me and told me it was a tough world for professional athletes,” Cador said. “He told me I should go back to school … it all made sense.

“I wouldn’t be in the place I’m in now if I stayed in Major League Baseball,” he said. “It would’ve spoiled what I have in place now.”

BUCKING THE ODDS …

Cador worked as an assistant basketball coach for four years before he took over the baseball program.

Within three years, the Jaguars made history in a classic “David vs. Goliath” scenario that remains one of Cador’s favorite moments as a head coach.

The Jaguars reached the South Regional bracket of the NCAA Baseball Tournament, which pit SU against No. 2-ranked Cal-State Fullerton.

Cador worked relief pitcher Alan Ratcliffe nine innings to stun the national powerhouse CSF for a 2-1 win.

“I remember (then-Baton Rouge sportscaster) Knox Nunally interviewed me and some players before the game, and we said we would just go out and do our best to play with them,” Cador said. “Nunally then said on the sportscast it would be a cold day in the desert before Southern beat Cal-State Fullerton.

“Yes, that win ranks pretty good as one of my proudest moments,” he said.  

He also remembers an 11-6 win over LSU in 2001 as one of the great moments in the program.

Cador had Rickie Weeks in the program by 2001. Weeks made history two years later when he became the first player from Southern to earn the Baseball America College Player of the Year award and the Golden Spikes Award. The same year, Weeks landed a spot with the Milwaukee Brewers.

“When people believe we have a product worthy of that award, iit makes me feel really proud,” he said.

Cador revealed his formula for success.

"We burn the midnight oil,” he said. "We’re always going to be shorthanded, but I want to keep working to get Southern University in the right place.”

FUTURE STARS …

Cador spends much of his time scouting the future Jaguars, although he has an assistant staff that has taken some of that load off of him the last few years.

He has had success landing players in areas such as Ascension Parish but said Atlanta and Houston have been his biggest sources of talent.

Cador loves high school baseball but believes some schools put too much emphasis on year-round play.

“They don’t give muscles enough time to rest, so you have more injuries,” he said.

Cador misses the days of the American Legion baseball program and laments how parents shell out thousands of dollars for travel ball.

“Some parents believe more money means a bigger return on a player, but that’s a myth,” he said. “The game has become a haven for the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

“If parents save that money from travel ball and put themselves through college, the kids will still find a good coach. They’ll learn the same way,” Cador said. “Take that money you spend on travel ball, and you can have your kids well on their way into college. If a kid is good, we’ll find them.”

LEGACY …

Cador prides himself on the winning tradition of his program, but a greater legacy overshadows what happens on the field, he said.

He has helped 35 student-athletes reach the major leagues – a rarity among small universities.

But it’s the academic achievement that makes him proudest.

“It’s the approximate 80 percent graduation rate,” he said. “It's the kids society had given up on as a lost cause, and to know that we turned it around and worked it out together.

“How I want people to remember me is very simple: I want them to remember me as someone who was fair and wanted to do right by people,” Cador said. “It’s just that simple.”?