Nebraska baseball players spent much of Monday on a luxury bus pointed toward Lincoln. Most sat quiet and reflective less than a day removed from the end of their season.
When they arrived back at Haymarket Park, they learned firsthand of the news that was about to shock Nebraska and baseball throughout the college and professional ranks.
Darin Erstad is resigning as coach of the Huskers.
The eight-year head man at NU broke down as he explained to a silent and emotional group in the clubhouse why he was making this decision — and that it was entirely his decision. In short, he wanted to be a more present father for his daughter, Jordan, and sons Zack and Adam.
“I have made the extremely difficult decision to step away from coaching,” Erstad said in a statement. “I love this team. I love our staff and I love Nebraska. The bottom line is I do not want to miss seeing our kids grow up.”
Junior relief pitcher Robbie Palkert told The World-Herald the announcement was not something players expected in the slightest. Rather, talk on the seven-hour ride home was about improving on the 32-24 season they just finished, which included a run to the Big Ten tournament final and three NCAA regional games in Oklahoma City over the weekend.
“To see him sit there and cry his eyes out to us and explain all those things about his family, it was touching,” Palkert said. “We wish the best for him, absolutely. And I think I speak for everyone in saying we’re all very happy for him.”
Nebraska had a record of 267-193-1 during Erstad’s tenure and reached the NCAA tournament four times but never advanced to a super regional. Erstad had a 2-8 record in the NCAA tournament as coach, though the Huskers came within an out of upsetting No. 9 national seed Oklahoma State on Saturday night before surrendering a three-run homer. The season ended with a 16-1 loss to Connecticut barely 12 hours later that left Erstad saying afterward he loved this team more than any other he had coached for its season-long fight.
Athletic Director Bill Moos reiterated on a radio broadcast and to The World-Herald that Erstad was not forced out in any way. Moos said the athletic department’s sports administrator for baseball, John Jentz, had a sense “something might be happening” but didn’t know for sure until earlier Monday.
Darin Erstad resigned Monday as Nebraska's baseball coach. Here are links to our complete coverage of Erstad's decision and the future of the …
“There was never any pressure on Darin — he retired,” Moos said. “He wants to go do things with his family, and I applaud that. He did not get terminated with cause, without cause or for any reason. I would not do that after this season. He’s high in my book as a coach and as a human being.”
Erstad, who also played at Nebraska, will turn 45 on Tuesday. After a 14-year major league career that netted him more than $49 million in career earnings, he returned to his alma mater, first as a volunteer assistant and then as the Huskers’ hitting coach. He was promoted to head coach in 2011 after Mike Anderson was fired.
He made a salary of $224,952 this year, and his contract ran through the 2023 season.
Moos, hired as A.D. in October 2017, will now be tasked with making another high-profile coaching hire. He’s previously hired Scott Frost as football coach and Fred Hoiberg as men’s basketball coach. He’s also hired new coaches for the men’s golf, men’s tennis, women’s gymnastics and rifle programs. He’s currently searching for a new women’s golf coach.
Moos said he’ll be looking for a proven winner and recruiter, preferably with head-coaching experience. Nebraska ties are “nice, but it’s not a prerequisite,” and the salary will be “competitive” with other top jobs nationally.
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“I always have a sense of urgency,” Moos said, “so I’m already working on it.”
Pitching coach Ted Silva will serve as the interim head coach.
Erstad said he wouldn’t have left the program if it wasn’t in a strong position moving forward. He led the 2017 Huskers to a Big Ten regular-season title and was named conference coach of the year. A swath of injuries kept Nebraska out of the eight-team Big Ten tournament in 2018 for the first time under Erstad’s watch.
Nebraska essentially began using modern analytics under Erstad, though players said his biggest impact was as a father figure. Palkert recalled an embrace they shared when the player sat crying in his office after his grandmother had died.
Speechless is an understatement. Coach Erstad poured his heart and soul into Husker Baseball. He has done more for me than I could ever pay back. I am so grateful for the time I got to spend under his wing. So much love for him and the Erstad family for all they’ve done. #gbr— Kyle Perry (@_kp23_) June 3, 2019
Freshman pitcher Kyle Perry tweeted out the coach has “done more for me than I could ever pay back.”
“Coach Erstad genuinely cares about all of his players and helped me not only become a better baseball player but a better man,” catcher Luke Roskam tweeted in part.
Coach Erstad genuinely cares about all of his players and helped me not only become a better baseball player but a better man. I will forever cherish the 3 years I got to play for him here at Nebraska! THANK YOU COACH FOR EVERYTHING 🙌— Skum (@LukeRoskam) June 3, 2019
Erstad was a two-sport star during his playing career at Nebraska. He was a first-team All-American and conference player of the year in baseball in 1995. He was also the starting punter on Nebraska football’s 1994 national championship team. He was inducted to the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018.
Erstad was the No. 1 overall MLB draft pick in 1995. He played 14 seasons in the majors with the Angels, White Sox and Astros. He was a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, two-time All-Star and won the 2002 World Series with the Angels.
Palkert said the Huskers have strong momentum going into next season regardless of who becomes their next coach.
“I think a lot of it now is sitting and waiting,” Palkert said. “We have trust in our athletic department and Mr. Moos to hire an excellent coach to replace Coach Erstad. We trust that. We just have to stick together as a family right now and see how it plays out.”
Timeline: Darin Erstad through the years
Darin Erstad was an All-American for the Nebraska baseball team and won a national championship as a punter for Tom Osborne. He spent 14 years in Major League Baseball and won three Golden Gloves before embarking on a head coaching career at his alma mater. Check out this photo gallery of Erstad through the years.