In the coaching profession, career win totals are a milestone often worth celebrating. 100, 150, 200 … when a head coach approaches these numbers, headlines are written and people take notice.
A select few have the longevity and success to hit these marks. Stephen Robicheaux has hit the first two over his 18 years as Destrehan head coach, and seems a virtual lock to cross the 200 victory barrier within the next two seasons.
But when it comes to career winning percentage? Precious, precious few can touch Robicheaux’s razor sharp 82 percent mark over 228 career prep football matchups. Entering Saturday night’s Class 5A championship game, Robicheaux will carry in a career record of 188-40. He has piloted Destrehan to two state championships – both title wins capping off unbeaten seasons. He’s overseen a 30 game win streak.
After a two year coaching sabbatical at the start of this decade, he returned in 2012. In his second year back, Destrehan reached a state semifinal. It wouldn’t lose a regular season game from 2013 to 2016, and over the past seven seasons, Destrehan has reached five state semifinal games and – including this year – two state crowns.
So when Robicheaux says he believes 2019 stands as what he believes is the best job his coaching staff has done over his long career – and that he’s never been prouder of a group of players than the 2019 Wildcats – one should take notice. Destrehan lost more games in the 2019 regular season than it did from 2013 to 2018 combined, yet will take the Superdome field for the second time in that span this weekend.
“I think this season is probably the best job our staff has done … most importantly, our kids stayed the course,” Robicheaux said. “It’s why I’m so, so excited for them. They didn’t turn on each other. They believed in what we’re doing, believed in the program and the process. And boy, now they’ve gone from 4-3 to a team playing in the Superdome.”
Robicheaux has always been quick to credit his assistant coaches for the success in a given game or season. But when it comes to the longevity and consistency of the Destrehan program under his watch, he’s particularly effusive in his praise of those around him. They make it all possible, he says.
“To be successful, the number one factor is that you have great people around you,” Robicheaux said. “At Destrehan, it’s no exception. The guys we can go get for our staff because of the tradition at Destrehan, because of an administration that believes football is important, we can hire guys that can come in and get things done.”
Though Destrehan was ranked No. 8 in the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s preseason poll for Class 5A, this wasn’t necessarily thought to be the Wildcats’ year heading in. The team was talented, but inexperienced at several key spots. Quarterback Damarius Jackson was a senior heading into his first year as a starting varsity quarterback. The offensive line was bigger than last season, but with far less game reps under their belt. Beyond standout receiver Quincy Brown, Destrehan was going to several new pass catchers among starters in its Air Raid spread attack. The defense was filled with new starting players on all three levels, and even its most experienced player on the front seven, Noah Taliancich, was moving into a new position, from end to tackle.
Injuries took hold at midseason, including to Jackson, and Destrehan lost three of four. The team had to adjust its offensive attack, and offensive coordinator Greg Boyne shifted gears for the team’s Week 8 game against Thibodaux, a must win against a top 10 ranked opponent on the road.
Destrehan went heavy, rode the run early and often, and Kyle Edwards rushed for over 200 yards and five touchdowns as Destrehan rolled to victory. It hasn’t lost since.
“When we came out against Thibodaux in two tight end, I-Formation, I think people thought we were going crazy,” said Robicheaux, alluding to a shift from Destrehan’s longtime spread offensive philosophy. “But we went with that, kind of smashmouth mentality on offense to go with a tough defense. I’ve said it before, but I think this has been one of Coach Boyne’s best years in adapting to what we have and giving us the ability to be successful.”
Boyne has long been the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator. For defensive coordinator Malter Scobel, this is his second year on the Destrehan staff. He brought a philosophical shift, from Robicheaux’s long favored 50/five-man defensive fronts to a four man front with more safeties on the field. His defense carries an emphasis on speed, quickness and always being on the attack. In the Wildcats’ second season in the scheme, the defense has blossomed into one of the state’s best units, both in terms of points allowed and turnovers forced.
“Coach Scobel’s done a great job,” Robicheaux said. “His defense is one I think that’s really difficult for our opponents to prepare for. I think we’re much better this year because the players grasp it now. They’re reacting instead of thinking and they’re playing much faster.”
Robicheaux said the move away from Destrehan’s traditional scheme was one that came with the way the game is changing on every level.
“That five man front becomes a four man when the offense comes out in different formations. Defense is defense, but he brought some different principles,” Robicheaux said. “Four man front, four safeties on the field … it’s what the whole country is coming to in order to match up with these offensive looks. He’s done a fantastic job and our kids buy in. The defensive lineman love it because they’re slanting every play and making tackles instead of eating up linemen for the linebackers to make the play.”
Robicheaux believes Boyne will one day soon become a head coach. Scobel has been a head coach, and Robicheaux’s staff is full of those like him, including Chad Blanchard, Tim Taffi and Rhett Peltier, all having headed a football program.
“When you have a staff like that, obviously you’re gonna have success,” Robicheaux said. “They’re extremely hard working and they put our kids in the best position to be successful. It’s all you could ever ask for.”