Darin Erstad had an exterior that could be gruff from time to time. But it belied the kind of man he was around the guys that made up his eight Nebraska baseball teams.
If you don't believe that, just let the Huskers tell you themselves.
"I’ll never forget, when I was a freshman, as a young pup, I walked into his office the day after my grandma passed away, tears falling out of my eyes, he was a father to me. He still is and he will be for however the next many years I’m on this earth," junior pitcher Robbie Palkert said Monday. "I’m pumped for him and pumped for whatever his next step may be."
Erstad's resignation Monday shocked a fan base and stunned a group of players in red that Erstad said in recent days he loved as much as any team he coached in his time leading the Husker program.
"I'm still at a loss for words," outfielder Aaron Palensky said more than 40 minutes after Erstad delivered the news.
After calling a team meeting as NU arrived back in Lincoln from Oklahoma City, Erstad delivered the news to his team at Haymarket Park.
"He’s as bought-in as anybody. He loves this state, this program, these guys as much as anybody," second baseman Alex Henwood said. "He’s great. I’ve loved every second of being with him. Great coach, better person, loves the game of baseball, loves the atmosphere here. I just can’t say enough good things about him. I’m sad to see him go, but he’s doing it for the right reasons."
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Erstad told his players Monday he loved them, both in a group setting and later in individual meetings. To a man, those players later relayed that message
“It means a lot. It says more about the group than any individual," Henwood said. "It’s just a great group, and that starts with great leadership — and that starts with him. He sets the tone every day and we follow him. He was a great coach. Still is a great coach."
It didn't seem to matter how long a player had been under Erstad's tutelage. Seniors and freshmen alike spoke with the same reverence for their now-former coach.
"We would put our hearts on the field for that man, and he would do the same for us every day," freshman pitcher Kyle Perry said. "There was no doubt in us knowing he was all there for us and for the University of Nebraska, and we appreciate him so much. There’s no one like him."
Junior outfielder Mojo Hagge fit the mold of the kind of player Erstad desired. As a freshman, the 5-foot-7, 175-pound Omaha Skutt graduate earned a spot on the team through a walk-on tryout, then played his way into a regular spot in the lineup and turned into a critical piece of Nebraska's outfield defense.
"Coach Erstad was a very special guy. He guided a lot of us. He wasn't a coach for us, he was basically another parent. He was there for us, whether it be in school ..." Hagge's voice trailed off. "We could go in and talk to him whenever. He was very special for this university. He will be missed."