Nebraska baseball coach Darin Erstad resigned Monday after eight seasons leading the Huskers. Three takes on the decision and where NU goes from here:
1. He steadied the ship — but hardly dominated the Big Ten. Erstad took over a struggling program from Mike Anderson that ran aground in Anderson’s final three seasons, none of which led to NCAA tournament berths.
“I don’t think there were too many guys lined up who wanted to take the job at the time,” said Cody Asche, a second-team All-American on Anderson’s final team, on which Erstad served as a volunteer assistant. “Going into the new league from the Big 12, coming off the worst years we’d had in the past 10, not an easy thing to do.”
Erstad took over and made four NCAAs in eight years. That’s better than his own coach, John Sanders, did in 20 years. It’s as many as former NU coach Dave Van Horn.
Of course, Van Horn also made the College World Series twice in five years. From 1999-2008, NU made nine regionals and three CWSes. Van Horn’s successor, Anderson, produced five regionals and one CWS before running the program into something close to a ditch his last three years.
So do you judge Erstad by the long history or a decade’s shadow? Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos likes using league peers as a measurement. Erstad has only been a head coach in the Big Ten. In his eight years:
» Nebraska’s four regional appearances ranks second in the conference to Indiana, which has five.
» NU’s average Big Ten finish is 4.0, which ranks third behind Indiana (2.88) and Minnesota (3.88).
» The Huskers’ two NCAA regional wins is tied for seventh with Ohio State and Purdue. Indiana has 11.
» Nebraska has one Big Ten regular-season/tournament title in 16 tries. Indiana has five, Minnesota three, Ohio State and Purdue two each, and several schools have one.
Indiana, clearly the league’s best program since 2012, is also on its third coach. That’s because Tracy Smith and Chris Lemonis got jobs at Arizona State and Mississippi State, respectively. Lemonis may be better known as the recruiter who helped Louisville make three CWSes, but the point still stands: Win in the Big Ten and power programs view you as a coach worth hiring.
Erstad was, by Big Ten standards, one of the league’s better coaches.
2. Erstad was not one of the league’s better recruiters. According to Perfect Game recruiting rankings, Nebraska has had two top-60 recruiting classes since 2014. Indiana and Michigan have had six, Maryland has had four, Purdue, Illinois and Iowa three. It’s possible no seniors or juniors off this current Husker team will be picked in the MLB draft. There’s no sugarcoating that. NU had two recruiting classes outside the top 100, according to Perfect Game. Yes, it’s hard to recruit Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas kids to Big Ten baseball, but it’s an area where the Huskers can grow, especially inside their own borders, where too many good players got away to schools like Texas A&M and Illinois.
3. Time to pay market rate. According to athleticdirectoru.com, Erstad is the seventh highest-paid head coach in the Big Ten. Heck, Moos paid his baseball coach at Washington State more than Erstad made. Because of his long and lucrative Major League Baseball career, Erstad didn’t ask for a big salary. That’s fine for him. It won’t work for any other coach. Nor should it. Michigan baseball coach Eric Bakich has a base salary of $400,000 and a total compensation package of $625,000. Nebraska may very well want to start around that level of funding.
There are names that NU must consider — former Huskers Will Bolt and Justin Seely, who are now assistants at Texas A&M — but it’s key to show strong financial commitment. Erstad didn’t need it. If NU wants an elite coach, he’ll likely demand it.
Know this, too: Life’s hard in the ACC and SEC. Teams may make more NCAA regionals down there, but there’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude at some schools, and if Nebraska can pony up the bucks, maybe a coach takes a flier on trying to become the best team in the North rather than the ninth-best team in the South.
Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts
Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.