LAFAYETTE, La. – Michael Desormeaux took to the podium at his inaugural head coaching press conference in Louisiana and channeled his Cajun roots. In his typically self-deprecating manner, he diverted attention and delivered a one-liner straight to a constituency he’s fluent in.
“All right, so I’ll be brief,” he said. “I heard they have Jambalaya Shoppe and beer and that’s what everyone’s here for.”
Desormeaux hails from Cajun Central Casting because his family tree — handwritten, he points out — dates back to the late 17th century here, when his first family member from France settled in the Acadiana region. His great-grandfather worked in the salt mines, his grandfather grew up as a Golden Gloves boxer and later became a fire chief, and his father played soccer at LSU.
Desormeaux, 37, is from nearby New Iberia and a former quarterback in Louisiana. He drives a pickup truck, loves to hunt crabs and hunt ducks. He’s quick to point out that the gumbo in the Lafayette area is more root-based Cajun style, much different than the tomato-based one in New Orleans. Of course, he also owns a warehouse that he and his brothers built by hand.
“It’s the only job that I worry about, that I care about, that I want,” he told ESPN this spring. “I really feel that way. I feel this place is unique.”
So when Athletic Director Bryan Maggard needed a replacement for Billy Napier, by far the most successful coach in modern school history, he doubled down on both the school’s overwhelming success in consecutive conference titles and the idea of maximizing local resources.
Both Desormeaux’s familiarity with the region and the plan for victory that Napier unfolded made the choice obvious. Maggard interviewed players from every corner of the roster — from punter to quarterback to defense — and her overwhelming choice was Desormeaux, the tight ends coach and offensive coordinator. Not only did the players love him; they knew by his oversized personality that he loved her.
“He had an incredible relationship with the players,” Maggard said. “He had recruited about a third of last year’s squad. That stood out along with the relationships he has with the Louisiana high school football coaches.
“He’s someone who understands that culture because that culture is him. He’s very proud of where he’s from.”
With veteran quarterback Levi Lewis (35-7 as a starter) ineligible and seven key players diving into the portal for Power 5 opportunities, Desormeaux’s debut 2-3 debut in 2022 doesn’t quite match the dominance of Napier’s last three years (33-5). On Wednesday night, the Ragin’ Cajuns get a close-up as they play Marshall (3-2) on ESPN2.
In a state that has more NFL draft candidates per capita than any other, there’s a certainty that hiring a coach who knows the state as well as anyone will help bring Louisiana back to par , on which Napier brought the Cajuns.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that we’ll be in the top 25 every year,” said Lewis Cook, head coach at Notre Dame High School in Acadia Parish and former assistant at Louisiana. “I think it’s one of those deals where you build it for a couple of years to be where we were…
“It may take a year or two but Mike will get these experienced guys in there like we did last year. Will it happen again? I think it will.”
Few know the local culture better than Tim Leger, the program’s offensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator, and former star at nearby Acadiana High School. His son Gunner was an All-America baseball player at school.
The best way he can exemplify Desormeaux’s Cajun in good faith is what he does to indoctrinate new hires—put on waders and learn to catch crawfish.
Just as Desormeaux buys his own bags of crawfish to cook them his preferred way, he also cares about curating the list in the right way. The state of Louisiana had 71 NFL players on its opening-day rosters, meaning one in every nearly 70,000 people in the state ends up on an NFL roster. No state is close second.
With LSU being the only Power 5 option in the state, there are plenty of raw but talented players scattered across the Louisiana boot.
“This is a place of development,” Leger said. “There’s big, long, and sporty all over this state. Many of them are underdeveloped. We’re going to get the guys with size and length and speed; the tools are there. We just have to develop the child. He’s done a great job fitting that.”
Desormeaux knows that the coaching staff at local high schools is often taxed because he tells the story of a recruit who actually ran the defensive line drills before the game because that staff didn’t have a coach. Most schools in rural areas only have three or four trainers on staff.
It’s a matter of knowing the local terrain to find players like junior receiver Peter LeBlanc, who played full-back in a Wing T at Catholic-New Iberia. He’s blossomed into a solid receiver for the Cajuns and just needs time and opportunity. A native of Berkville, Texas, Robert Hunt wore the redshirt for a year before becoming the No. 39 overall in the 2020 NFL draft. Finding and developing was the Louisiana way.
“What really helps here, in this part of the country, is that there are really talented players who are developmental,” Desormeaux said. “A lot of good players come in here and they need more reps and more time. Being close to good players certainly helps.”
Likewise the familiarity. In addition to the close family ties, Desormeaux was also a high school star, high school coach, and local recruiter. He appreciates how the area is about relationships, community and the endless festivals celebrating things like Boudin.
He is so connected to the area that he jokes that he is a distant relative of the famous horse jockey of the same surname, Kent Desormeaux. They pronounce the names differently because the trainer’s pronunciation is more like a hard z at the end of the first syllable – “DEC” – while the jockey’s is more like traditional Cajun phonetic spelling.
“Everyone else says Desormeaux,” he said, emphasizing the HEAVY part of the pronunciation. “You must assume that we are wrong.”
Beneath the self-deprecating humor lies a fiery temper, something else the area is known for. After all, no other school uses a pepper for an apostrophe in their logo like those on Ragin’ Cajuns. But it’s balanced as players know Desormeaux will love them just as much. And that makes him well known to the team and beyond.
“It binds the community that one of them is here,” defensive coordinator LaMar Morgan said. “I knew he would be the head coach here. I just didn’t know it would be in this cycle. He’s an elite person and he really knows the community and the players. That is what makes him so special.”
That proximity to talent and ability to develop it after Napier’s departure after the 2021 season has benefited others as well as Louisiana did in 2022. Three transfers ended with Napier in Florida, including offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence, the Gators’ top NFL prospect is not called Anthony Richardson. The top two jams ended up at TCU and Florida, while other talented players went to LSU and Kansas.
The seven players moving up show the current fragility of playing at a high level in the Group of Five. The talent drain partially contributed to Rice, Louisiana-Monroe and South Alabama losing three games. There is growing pain bringing in a new quarterback with Lewis gone having played both Chandler Fields and Ben Wooldridge. (Fields won’t play Marshall due to a hamstring injury, giving Wooldridge his first career start).
Factor in the four new offensive linemen, and Louisiana ranks No. 114 overall offensively in the country. Defense has been strong under Morgan as they are third nationally in forced turnovers (14) and No. 36 nationally in goal defense (20.4). Some balance will come. Just don’t expect portal excuses from Desormeaux.
“This is the world we live in,” Desormeaux said. “Everyone is losing players everywhere. Everyone has lost players in the transfer portal. Everyone goes through the same things. For us, you’ll never hear anyone apologize for where we are. For some of the young people , it means opportunities, I see the.”
While the launch was slow, the blueprint remains. Maggard opted for an internal promotion because he felt Napier had left behind a solid course of action, an Alabama Lite model that pays coaches $18,000 instead of $80,000 for quality control. Going outside meant risking that by blowing everything up.
Louisiana has long been one of the most financially committed schools in the Sun Belt, long the envy of its rivals. Desormeaux also raves about the alignment, as school president Dr. E. Joseph Savoie – calling himself ‘T-Joe’ of course – recognized the value of strong athletics and the rewards of supporting football.
“There are a lot of similarities between [Desormeaux] and Billy Napier,” Maggard said. “If you made a commitment to get Napier 2.0, you got it. He is extremely sincere, very humble and very intelligent. I tell you he loves this place.
“He will give everything not only to maintain the success, but to increase it.”
And there will certainly be beer and jambalaya to celebrate when that day comes. Expect a quick press conference before everyone dives in.
https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/34778905/louisiana-football-coach-michael-desormeaux-perfect-fit-ragin-cajuns Louisiana football coach Michael Desormeaux is the perfect fit with Ragin’ Cajuns