Rapid Ascent: Erstad takes over Nebraska baseballDarin Erstad’s cell phone battery went dead on Thursday and he was forced to figure out his new office phone. The dead battery wasn’t too surprising, though, there was a lot to talk about. The 2-time American League All-Star, and World Series champion, was introduced on Thursday as the new head baseball coach at the University of Nebraska, his alma mater, where he starred for three seasons before being the No. 1 pick in the 1995 Major League Baseball draft.
Darin Erstad’s cell phone battery went dead on Thursday and he was forced to figure out his new office phone.
The dead battery wasn’t too surprising, though, there was a lot to talk about.
The 2-time American League All-Star, and World Series champion, was introduced on Thursday as the new head baseball coach at the University of Nebraska, his alma mater, where he starred for three seasons before being the No. 1 pick in the 1995 Major League Baseball draft.
“I’m kind of getting a crash course in a lot of things right now,” Erstad said, “but that’s OK. I love a challenge.”
Erstad, who turns 37 on Saturday, has had a rapid ascent to his new job.
Just three years ago, he appeared in 140 games for the Houston Astros. But in 2009, that number dropped to 107 as injuries plagued the Jamestown native and he decided to hang up the spikes after 14 seasons.
Then last summer, he was hired as a volunteer assistant coach at Nebraska, serving primarily as the hitting coach.
But on May 22 Mike Anderson was fired as the team’s head coach. Erstad certainly didn’t campaign for the job, but athletic director Tom Osborne clearly targeted him for the post from the get-go. The two had a strong relationship going back to 1994 when Erstad was the Cornhuskers’ punter on Nebraska’s national championship team, which was coached by Osborne.
But even he is surprised by how quickly things unfolded.
“I mean, this was so far off the radar from what I was thinking would happen, it’s hard to even fathom,” Erstad said. “But now we’re here, and we have a job to do and we need to get after it.”
With just a year of coaching under his belt, he admits there’s going to be a lot of learning on the fly.
“Is this all ahead of the curve? Yes. Do I have the administrative and recruiting experience some other people have for a job like this? No. But this is an opportunity you don’t pass up,” he said. “I think I’m a pretty fast learner.”
In the immediate future, he needs to hire a staff, which will include two other coaches. One needs to be a “stud recruiter,” and the other a pitching coach.
The Cornhuskers, who move into the Big 10 next season, have gone just 82-80-1 the past three years and have missed out on the Big 12 conference tournament the past three seasons.
However, the Big Ten is not as traditionally strong in baseball as the Big 12, and the cupboard isn’t bare.
“We have a very good nucleus of players here, we just need to add to it, and we will,” he said.
Osborne said at Thursday’s press conference that they have the right man in charge.
“He cares about Nebraska baseball a great deal,” Osborne said. “He is interested in developing and serving players. Money does not seem to be a major concern of his, which is refreshing in this day and age. I don’t think he’ll do this job to get ready to go to the next job.
“He’s had experience at the highest level and knows what good baseball looks like, and probably knows what bad baseball looks like.”
Prior to last year, he had not spent much time thinking about coaching, but once he got a taste he liked it.
“I fell in love with developing these kids and the passion and energy they have, and that was very refreshing,” he said. “Did I think this was going to happen? I had no clue. But I’m a baseball player. I love this game, and this is what I know best.”
And he’s in it for the long haul.
“I take things day-to-day. I don’t look at the big picture. I’m focusing on the grind and the process of doing what it takes to be successful,” he said. “It’s time to get to work.”
Sun sports editor Dave Selvig can be reached at (701) 952-8460 or by e-mail at email@example.com