When he’s not busy running SportsBR, a nonprofit that hosts sporting events and activities in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he’ll quickly point you to some of his personal favorite places to eat like Ruffino’s Restaurant, an Italian-Creole fusion steakhouse where he suggests getting a fillet with the crawfish topping or their gourmet corn dog. His other suggestions: Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar for its stuffed shrimp and cheese fries, Phil’s Oyster Bar for the garlic-and-butter oysters and Sammy’s Grill, a sports bar known for its boiled crawfish.
After sharing a personal story about going to a crawfish boil in Dallas where the pile started moving because it wasn’t cooked well enough, he gives me some advice: “If you’re outside of Louisiana, don’t order the crawfish.”
Playing for a LSU Legend
The former Louisiana State University starting pitcher knows the Bayou State—and baseball—well.
Coogan grew up here. He pitched for Skip Bertman, the legendary head baseball coach who transformed LSU into five-time college world series champions during his stint from 1984-2001.
Coogan’s parents were one of the original ticket holders when Bertman began. “He got the community loving baseball,” Coogan says. “From that point on, I wanted to play at LSU and be a Tiger.”
Coogan was on the mound in 1996 College World Series when he gave up the go-ahead run in the College World Series, saved by his teammate, future Olympian and MLB journeyman, Warren Morris, who hit a two-out, 9th inning walk-off home run to win help the Tigers win.
A year later, Coogan and LSU won again. He posted a 14-3 record, 4.46 ERA with 144 strikeouts in 125 innings to become a 1997 All-American and Athletic Director’s Academic Cup Winner.
“Once you’re there and [win a national title], there’s almost this expectation that you’re going to do it again,” says Coogan, who played six years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and finished his playing career in 2002 in Memphis for the AAA team. “It was a big contrast from the year before when we didn’t know if we could do it. My teammates who stayed on still rag on me to this day for signing as a junior, saying if I had come back we would have won back-to-back-to-back. I still have to live with that.”
The real magic, Coogan says is not so much what Bertman did on the field but off.
“When you talk about the great coaches, everyone wants to know what the special sauce is,” Coogan says. “I don’t think I learned anything baseball wise that I couldn’t have learned from someone else, but he taught us how to be men. His saying was excellence on and off the field.”
That included coming to everyone’s dorm or apartment with a checklist to make sure basic supplies like mops and sponges were available. Each fall every player had to do maintenance work, fixing the nets and grooming the field.
“He wanted us to take ownership of it, so we wouldn’t disrespect it throughout the year,” Coogan says. “You learned a lot of real life stuff from him, more than baseball, things that you don’t think about when you’re 17 or 18.”
Taking on a new role
Coogan now hopes to take that philosophy—of bringing quality on and off the field—and apply it to sporting events and activities in city of Baton Rouge.
In his newish role (he officially started December 2018) as CEO and president of SportsBR, Coogan is tasked with increasing the promotion and production of sporting events in Baton Rouge.
The nonprofit’s long-term goal: make Baton Rouge “the amateur sports capital of the South.”
“Our challenge is we aren’t an Atlanta, Dallas or a Chicago—we’re not a tier one city,” Coogan says. “The biggest challenge I face is if I want to put on the best event for a 12-year-old to come play in, ‘How can we do that and what facilities can we do that?’”
SportsBR’s events include the Mardi Gras Mambo 10k/15k and 1-mile fun run in downtown Baton Rouge and the Tiger 10k that finishes in LSU’s Tiger Stadium (that also includes a 5K and kids run).
Every September, SportsBR, which was originally called the Baton Rouge Area Sports Foundation until it was rebranded in 2017, hosts more than 50 schools and 1,000 Louisiana athletes for the Battlefield Cross Country Festival, on the Civil War battle site of Port Hudson State Historic Site in Jackson, Louisiana. The event also includes a 2-mile public run. It also partners with BREC—a parks and recreation organization in East Baton Rouge Parish that includes 180 parks —as well as other facilities and groups.
As the capital of Louisiana, Coogan says it’s the people—and their Southern ways that charm repeat business.
“The people are unique just like the cuisine and the experience,”Coogan says. “If you meet and make a connection with somebody in South Louisiana, you end up being a friend for life with them. They’ll make sure of that, whether it’s by choice or not. That’s why, once we host an event, the majority of the time people are already planning their rebooking.”