How being Cajun to the core should help new Louisiana football coach Michael Desormeaux
A crowded room full of program supporters seemed to hang on his every word in his first moments as leader of the country’s No. 17-ranked team.
“All right, so I’ll keep this short,” he said. “I heard they got Jambalaya Shoppe and beer back there, and that’s what everybody’s here for, so it won’t take me too long.”
Fewer than eight minutes later, Desormeaux closed with: “To everyone who helped make this happen, I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know. But it’s time to work. Geaux Cajuns.”
Desormeaux, 36, New Iberia native, Lafayette resident, married father of two, brother to three siblings, New Iberia-Catholic product, former UL quarterback, is Cajun to the core.
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After quick pictures and interviews, Desormeaux mingled with the people, a cold late-afternoon beverage in his hand, a brewing sense of responsibility in the air to keep going the success new Florida Gators coach Billy Napier brought to UL.
Trusting Desormeaux can tap into his Cajun roots and keep rolling the well-oiled machine Napier left behind is why athletic director Bryan Maggard is confident he has the right man at the right time to lead a nationally ranked team headed to its fourth straight bowl game. UL (12-1) plays Marshall (7-5) on Dec. 18 (2:30 p.m., ESPN) at the New Orleans Bowl.
“I can promise you this: There is not a coach in America who wants to be here at the University of Louisiana more than Mike Desormeaux,” Maggard said. “This is his home, this is his university, it’s his football program and he is absolutely ecstatic to be the head coach here.”
It’s why Maggard firmly believes Desormeaux can nurture a program still raising money to fund a massive stadium renovation project while maintaining the high national profile built since Napier was hired late in 2017. Desormeaux has been on the staff for the past six seasons and was co-offensive coordinator this season.
A recruiting-related and standardized testing NCAA rules violation scandal, a controversial locker room incident with political overtones, some scrapes with the law for Cajun players and three straight losing seasons led to the demise of coach Mark Hudspeth, whose teams never dipped into the polls even when starting with four straight 9-4 seasons.
But it’s not broken anymore, which should help the Acadiana kid continue what Napier started.
So too should Desormeaux’s local knowledge, something Georgia-raised Napier – and Mississippi-born Hudspeth – learned on the fly.
“That’s one advantage I think Mike Desormeaux (had) over any other candidate is he already had relationships within this community and with the region and within the state,” Maggard said. “So I think he’s gonna be able to go and inspire people to further support, or start supporting, this football program and this university.”
Understanding the Cajun way is a big deal in the parts of Louisiana Desormeaux calls home.
“This, to me, is a fun-loving type of people,” said UL women’s basketball coach Garry Brodhead, a Lafayette native.
“But,” Brodhead added, “our people are passionate too.”
Cajuns really like winning and aren’t always patient when it’s lacking.
That’s something Maggard considered when he asked trusted voices, including not only Napier but also former Cajuns and NFL quarterback Jake Delhomme, about Desormeaux’s readiness.
“If you look at Jake Delhomme, that’s probably one of the most passionate players to ever play here, you know?” Brodhead said. “He just lives his life like that. But that’s kind of our culture too.
“We just love life, man.”
Family values also are high priority in a deeply religious community with an oil-and-gas based economy and a small-town feel. That’s a huge reason Napier didn’t leave earlier for a high-paying SEC job.
“People here, for the most part, really care about each other,” said Desormeaux’s father, Bill Desormeaux.
“Michael has a love for people, in particular his kids – his players – and that’s just something that came natural to him.”
It’s a foundation Desormeaux feels confident he can stand on while embarking on a journey bound to have ups and downs.
“This place is so unique to anywhere else in the world, really,” Desormeaux said. “Everything here in this community and this area is about relationships, and it’s about people.
“All the things you preach are in your program – that’s what our whole community is about.”
Desormeaux knows it. He’s lived it.
And he intends to continue living it, from keeping things real, like knowing when there’s jambalaya to be had and something to wash it down, to realizing that even a local must pitch his product.
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Whether it’s selling tickets or chasing recruits, there’s always a case to make.
“The thing you’ve got to say about Coach Napier that’s completely admirable,” Desormeaux said, “is when he got here … he completely immersed himself and had to the humility to say, ‘All right, well, what makes this place special?’ and to learn about it and to take advice and to listen.
“It was easy for him, because to me he might be from North Georgia and all that stuff, but he’s one of us in the way sees things and the things that are important to him.
“But he had the humility to come in here and say, ‘Hey, look, I don’t understand everything about this place. What are the things that are important? Who do we need to connect with? How do we need to go about doing this things?’ ”
Desormeaux has most of those answers already, a leg up on leading a program that won’t be left with as much talent as the one Napier is leaving behind.
“For me, fortunately,” Desormeaux said, “I do understand a lot of the things that make this place tick, and things that resonate with our people here, and I think that’s only gonna truly be a benefit.”