Darin Erstad’s resignation as the Nebraska baseball coach caught many by surprise, including local high school coaches.
They also expressed disappointment that he’s stepping down.
“It did surprise me,” Elkhorn South coach Brandon Dahl said. “Especially with the year they had, getting so close to a super regional.”
Bob Greco, who has coached Omaha Westside for 26 years, agreed.
“I thought he did a great job,” Greco said. “But NU fans are fickle and expect perfection, so I guess nothing should really surprise us.”
Erstad announced Monday that he was resigning after eight seasons as coach to spend more time with his family. That announcement came one day after the Huskers’ season-ending 16-1 loss to Connecticut in the Oklahoma City Regional.
“I’m sure he felt pressure,” Greco said. “You’ve got to have a special personality in this day and age to be able to handle it.”
Although his Huskers posted a regional win over UConn on Friday, Erstad drew heat on social media following Sunday’s big loss. That didn’t escape the attention of Millard West coach Steve Frey, who has known the Erstad family for several years.
“On a personal note, I think it’s sad that he won’t be coaching anymore,” Frey said. “I think it’s a big loss for Nebraska.”
Like Erstad, Frey grew up in North Dakota. Frey played baseball with Erstad’s younger brother but also got to know Darin well.
“He was always such a humble guy,” Frey said. “He was not only a great athlete but a great person.”
Frey, who led the Wildcats to their first Class A title last month, added that Erstad has been receptive to helping local high school coaches.
“Darin always offered to show us how they do things down there,” Frey said. “His door was always open.”
Omaha Creighton Prep coach Pat Mooney said he remembers seeing Erstad at the 2011 American Legion tournament, hosted that summer by the Junior Jays. Erstad had just taken the NU job the previous month.
“It was about 100 degrees every day, but he was out there,” Mooney said. “He wanted to be visible, and I think that was the right thing to do.”
Erstad wasn’t as visible at high school games in the spring because he was busy coaching the Huskers. Dahl said he dealt mostly with NU pitching coach Ted Silva during the recruiting of Storm pitcher Sayer Diederich, a 2019 Nebraska commit.
“I think they’ve done a better job lately of getting back to recruiting local kids,” Dahl said. “Who wouldn’t want to compete for Nebraska?”
Four seniors from last year’s All-Nebraska team ended up with the Huskers: Kyle Perry and Drew Gilin of Millard South, Colby Gomes of Millard West and Shay Schanaman of Grand Island.
Of the 39 players on the NU roster this season, 17 graduated from Nebraska high schools.
But some local players have slipped away. Most notable was Omaha Roncalli graduate Alec Bohm, who went on to have an outstanding career at Wichita State.
Bohm batted .339 for the Shockers as a junior and was named a second-team All-American by Baseball America. The third baseman was taken third overall by Philadelphia in the 2018 major league draft.
“Recruiting is a tough job,” Greco said. “You can’t get everybody, but I think overall they’ve done a good job of finding talented kids on the local level.”
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Another player who won’t be heading to Nebraska is Millard West junior shortstop Max Anderson, though the Huskers did try. The co-captain of this year’s All-Nebraska team is committed to Texas A&M.
“I know Max was really torn between the two schools,” Frey said. “But when you have A&M come calling, it’s tough to say no.”
Mooney said he wished Nebraska would have come calling at Prep more often during Erstad’s eight-year tenure. The Junior Jays won the Class A championship four times during that span.
“There hasn’t been a Prep player on scholarship there since Darin took over,” Mooney said. “They’ve had two walk-ons and that’s it.”
Mooney said many of his former players have gone on to make contributions at the Division I level, including eight in the recent regionals. Five were playing for Creighton, two for UNO and one for Florida Atlantic.
“It’s hard to tell why,” Mooney said. “I’ve reached out to them (Nebraska) many times, but that’s just the way it’s been.”
Greco, who has seen former Warriors Jake Meyers and brothers Matt and Mike Waldron play for NU in recent years, said his ex-players’ feedback about Erstad always has been positive.
“I’ve heard zero complaints about him,” the coach said. “And I always liked the fact that he held his players accountable for their actions.”
Frey said he hopes his fellow North Dakotan enjoys his time away from the game.
“Darin is such a great guy,” the Millard West coach said. “I think he’ll be a tough act to follow.”
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.