Southern’s Cador sells the dream

By Alden Gonzalez
Updated: February 3, 2011

NEW YORK — Through hard work, big dreams, southern charm and good networking, Southern University baseball coach Roger Cador has built a career on making something out of nothing.

That became evident shortly after he inherited his current job 26 years ago.

At the time, the baseball program at Southern University and A&M College, located in Baton Rouge, La., had stalled to the point where, as Cador put it, “We had zero facilities. Zero.”

For a while, Cador’s athletes didn’t have cleats, bats, gloves, pants — anything — if they didn’t go out and buy it themselves. But Cador had a friend. His name was Dusty Baker.

And a few years after Cador got the job, Baker — then the Giants’ hitting coach — invited him to Atlanta while his team played the Braves. Cador made the drive and came back with plenty.

“They gave us so much equipment, I had to send it in a U-Haul,” he recalled. “That’s really how we got started.”

And it was only the beginning.

Since then, Cador — now pretty much a legend in the collegiate coaching community — has managed to put a baseball field on campus and equip it with lights. He’s in the process of building the team a clubhouse.

In 1987, he became the first coach to lead a Historically Black College or University to a victory in the NCAA Tournament. He has brought big names like Dave Stewart to the school’s baseball banquets. And he has somehow managed to bring top-tier talent to a school that had hardly ever acquired it.

“He’s done a fabulous job, particularly with what he has to work with,” sixth-year Southern athletic director and former NFL tight end Greg LaFleur said. “He gets the most out of a little, that’s for sure.”

On Feb. 25, Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., will host its fourth annual Urban Invitational, and for the fourth time, Cador’s Jaguars will participate.

The three-day event, which also includes a college fair and a high school battle of the bands, is meant to showcase HBCUs on a national stage, with MLB Network once again airing the second day’s games.

Cador, a former student-athlete at Southern who was an outfielder in the Braves’ system from 1973-77, first spoke with MLB executive vice president of baseball development Jimmie Lee Solomon about the concept roughly a decade ago and provided reliable feedback throughout the planning stages.

“It was about exposure — getting more African-American kids exposed, where they can be seen,” said Cador, whose team went 25-22 last year (17-6 in the SWAC), then lost in the conference semifinals.

“More than anything, if you do this at the top with collegiate teams, then at the bottom, with the high school teams, there should be more of an interest because now they can see there is an opportunity out there for them.”

Before taking the job at Southern, LaFleur worked at Louisiana State University. He said the athletic budget at LSU was slightly larger than the entire budget at Southern, and nearly 13 times more than its athletic budget.

Money is usually the biggest problem for HBCUs. But you don’t get the money without garnering fan interest, you don’t get fan interest without winning big, you don’t win big if you don’t have big-time recruits, and you don’t get big-time recruits if you don’t have money.

That’s why the process of getting HBCUs to compete with the bigger Division I programs is often a long one. But programs like the Urban Invitational help. And so do personalities like Cador.

Here’s another example: About 10 years ago, Cador was hot after a young prospect from Florida named Rickie Weeks, who was no doubt getting offers from larger, more-established programs.

Cador drove to Florida — on a recruiting budget he supplies by selling ads to local businesses — and spoke with Weeks’ mother. He made such an impression on her that she decided her son had to play for him.

Weeks — now the Brewers’ second baseman — went on to win the Golden Spikes Award in 2003 while playing for a school that, if not for Cador, had no shot of landing him.

How did he do it?

“Selling them on the dream,” Cador said. “And the dream worked, because many of those kids came out with a degree, and that’s what their mothers wanted, and they wanted them more than anything to play for me. They just wanted them to play for me. I didn’t sell them on any facilities, but something tangible. And it worked.”