A prep coaching icon stepped down from his post Friday morning, as Destrehan High School head football coach Stephen Robicheaux announced his retirement.
Robicheaux, 57, led Destrehan to the Class 5A state championship game in 2019, his final season at the helm of a program he steered to great heights that included two state championship victories – each capping undefeated seasons —and four total appearances in the state championship game. He leaves Destrehan with an overall head coaching record of 186-41 over his 18 years as the Wildcats’ head coach.
The veteran coach informed his players Thursday night of his decision, and made the announcement public on Friday.
Robicheaux said the decision to make the move now came, in part, through his entry into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), an optional program allowing one to freeze regular monthly retirement benefit funds and have it deposited into a separate account, while still working and drawing a salary from a TRSL-reporting agency or school.
“My wife and I decided three years ago we’d probably go into the program, because I’d be 55 years old vs. 25, and not the other way around,” Robicheaux said. “So (this year) we knew we had a big decision to make. We felt like it was the right time. The program is in a great place, and I have the opportunity to go home and spend some time with my wife, my kids.
“It was a tough decision, obviously. I’ve grown up here.”
And the Destrehan community, in turn, watched his maturation from a young assistant to one of the state’s elite head coaches. Robicheaux has been with the Wildcats program for 26 years. He served as Destrehan’s defensive coordinator under Scott Martin before taking the head coaching helm upon Martin’s departure.
What followed was a coaching run remarkable in both its year-to-year consistency and its ultimate heights reached. The Wildcats were a perfect 29-0 over their 2007 and 2008 championship seasons, years capped with victories over two of the state’s most storied programs: a 41-21 win over Acadiana and a 14-3 win over West Monroe on the Superdome turf. The streak would ultimately finish at a school record 30 wins in a row.
Robicheaux stepped down for a two year stretch following the 2009 season, accepting a position as St. Charles Parish Public Schools’ safety coordinator, a role he served in for two years before returning to the Wildcats’ sideline once again in 2012.
Destrehan missed the postseason in his first season back. But a year later, the Wildcats started a run that saw the program go unbeaten in regular season play from 2013 to 2016. Destrehan reached five state semifinals over Robicheaux’s final seven years with the team.
“I knew I was at a special place,” said Robicheaux. “I knew the expectations. The only thing I ever wanted was to build on what Chipper Simon, Tim Rebowe and Scott Martin had done, continue on with the great tradition of this program. I think we’ve done a decent job. You have great success because you have great kids, great assistant coaches and a great support structure, and Destrehan High School has that.”
He said while his 2012 return does represent precedent for a coaching comeback one day – he won’t rule it out completely – it’s not something he foresees.
“I think it’s time. I retired once and came back, but I really think in my heart, it’s time for something else. What that it? I’m not sure yet,” he said, before quipping, “Maybe it’s time to go get a real job and work 40 hours a week. Who knows?
“I have grandbabies now. My wife has done so much for me, sacrificed, to make this all possible … now it’s time for me to give a little back. I think it’s time for me to hang my whistle up.”
While the 2019 team was not among those that earned a state championship, nor one that went unbeaten in regular season play, Robicheaux said this team represented what he felt was his staff’s best coaching job and a group of players he says he couldn’t be prouder of. Destrehan went 4-3 to begin the season before embarking on a seven game win streak, ultimately falling to Acadiana in an 8-3 defensive slugfest in the 5A championship.
He admits that run, and this group of players and coaches, did bring about the natural second thoughts about stepping away.
“There are just so many other factors besides the emotional part of it, though,” said Robicheaux. “This was one of the most special years just because of these kids and what they accomplished. To see where they started and where they ultimately got, to play for a state championship … of course, the coach in me is asking, ‘Hey, this is where I need to be going forward, right?’ But there are other things I want to do in my life. I’m still young enough to do some things.”
St. Charles Parish Public Schools athletic director Kade Rogers said Robicheaux left a legacy of winning both on and off the field.
“He was so successful on the field, but even more so off the field,” Rogers said. “He truly developed great relationships with student-athletes and always moved with the mindset of ‘what is best for our students?’ He put them first, and he’ll be sorely missed.”
Rogers said the district plans to move quickly to find a successor. There will not likely be a shortage of candidates: Destrehan has several former head coaches on its staff and the program’s high standing would in theory draw a number of outside applicants as well.
“We’re going to put together a committee, meet with the Destrehan administration and try to formulate a plan to move forward and find the best individual for Destrehan and its student-athletes,” Rogers said, adding there is no set timeline to complete this process just yet, but that it will begin swiftly.
Robicheaux said he’s received messages from numerous former players, colleagues and community members. But he noted it one particular message that made him emotional: from a former team manager, thanking him for their years together.
“He said, ‘Coach, I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me. You made me feel important as a manager … I graduated college this year.’” Robicheaux said. “That got me to break down. Because that’s what it’s all about, trying to help kids. Someone reaching out to let me know that I made a difference in their life. That kind of took me to my knees.”