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Nebraska Baseball

Love or Hate: Ratings Bumps, the Big Test, Martinez on Top and More

June 7, 2019
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It’s Friday, which means love/hate time. We’re now in the offseason of every major Nebraska sport, but, fortunately for the sake of #content, there continues to be plenty to talk about in the world of Husker sports.

The Start of the Climb

Logan Smothers, the 2020 quarterback commit from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, was unranked by Rivals up until December of 2018. When he committed to Nebraska in July of 2018, the Huskers were among the first to see what everyone else is starting to see.

Smothers got a boost from the recruiting rankings service recently, a jump up to the 4-star tier. He’s now listed as the eighth-best quarterback in his class and the 10th best prospect out of Alabama. Quarterback coach Mario Verduzco was in to visit recently. Smothers is a big part of a slow-to-take-hold 2020 class that already features three talented 4-stars.

The other being offensive lineman Turner Corcoran, who’s going to the adidas All-American Bowl.

It’ll be the second straight season the Huskers will have a featured tackle playing in the game, after 2019 signee Bryce Benhart played at right tackle and more than held his own against edge rusher Nolan Smith, who many viewed as the best overall high school prospect last season. 

It seems fitting these two, Smothers and Corcoran, should be quarterback and offensive lineman, given how instrumental they’ll be in helping to peer recruit other members of the 2020 class. But two of the cornerstone pieces of the class also serve as shining endorsements of the Nebraska staff’s philosophy to recruiting. 

Whenever Smothers arrives on campus, he will have been committed to Nebraska for well over a year. It’s probably a safe assumption to make that when that indeed happens, his offer list will probably be a little bigger than the nine-team grouping he currently has (two at the P5 level). A ratings bump says as much. Corcoran has 16 offers, every single one of them at the Power 5 level, including the likes of Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma, and that list will only continue to grow. But Nebraska was on Smothers first. And it was also early to the table for Corcoran.

Nebraska is unafraid to trust its own eyes. If that means offering a kid no one else is willing to offer yet, so be it. It looks like that’ll continue to pay off.

Moos’ First Real Test, and the Guy Atop the List

Texas A&M’s Rob Childress has been the name everyone wants to talk about this week.

After Darin Erstad’s surprise (kinda . . . maybe . . . not really?) resignation on Monday, there was no time wasted, as is the case with these things, on setting proverbial power rankings for the next Nebraska baseball coach. The usual Nebraska people with Nebraska ties found their way onto the lists and those almost universally have three Aggie coaches at or near the top — Childress and assistant coaches Justin Seely and Will Bolt.

Bolt could be the favorite. Hail Varsity’s Kyle Kardell had a list of five potential candidates and four of them came out of Texas. Seely has been focused on the Aggie hitters and outfielders, though, and Athletic Director Bill Moos made it clear during a Sports Nightly appearance this past week he values pitching a great deal. 

Pitching and recruiting. 

Which leads back to Childress. Here’s the first line from his Aggie bio.

“One of the top pitching coaches and recruiters in the country...”

Childress has a daughter that currently attends UNL. He coached at Nebraska from 1998 to 2005. He has two former Huskers as assistants on his A&M staff. And he checks every box Moos has on his checklist — Power 5 head coaching experience (check), strong pitching coach (check) strong recruiter (check), one of the top guys in his profession (check). All the ties you could possibly want are there.

The big difference between Childress and, say, guys like Scott Frost and Fred Hoiberg, and the biggest reason this baseball head coaching hire is going to be Moos’ most challenging/telling Husker hire to date? Childress isn’t technically on the market. 

Frost was moving on to bigger and better things. Ask yourself, if he wasn’t a Nebraska alum and grew up in some other state, would he have taken the Florida job of the Nebraska one? Hoiberg was looking for his next opportunity. Childress already has a cushy gig. 

He currently makes almost four times what Erstad made in annual salary. Nebraska is not a step up the ladder from Texas A&M, especially not after the 14 years Childress has invested in College Station, so to lure him away would require upping his pay. The average head coaching salary in the Big Ten is right around a quarter of a million dollars. Childress makes $800,000. Does Nebraska have the financial flexibility to pay a baseball coach four times the going rate of its peers when its already paying top dollar for football and basketball coaches?

Moos says they’ll be competitive, but that seems too much.

Plus, how do you pull a guy from Texas and the SEC to coach in the Big Ten. Childress has made 13 straight NCAA tournament appearances and advanced to the College World Series twice since 2011, including a recent 2017 trip. Maybe you could sway him because the Big 12 success Childress enjoyed hasn’t quite been the same in the SEC, but it would still be a heck of a sales pitch from Moos to pretty up a schedule that has you on the road the first month of your season.

There’s talent to recruit in the state of Nebraska; that’s not the issue in recruiting, weather is.

Childress feels like he could very well be the No. 1 guy on that list that Moos keeps inside his desk drawer. Moos likes to joke that he hasn’t yet had to go past that No. 1 spot in making a coaching hire. This time, though, he might have to. And what does that look like? Everyone can agree Childress is atop the wishlist, but those after him are shuffled depending on which person you’re talking to. 

Will there be acceptance of a non-first option getting the job? Will there be the same excitement? Does it matter? Could Moos actually pull of something that seems pretty far-fetched? This hire will say a lot about Moos’ ability to sell the University, I think, and even more about Nebraska’s short-term future as an athletic power.

More Martinez Love

USA Today ranked the top 10 quarterbacks entering the 2019 college football season. That came out Wednesday. Your typical one-two was at the top — Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa — but after that got interesting. Oregon’s Justin Herbert was named No. 3; good to see the West Coast slingers get some love when it’s deserved and Herbert love is definitely deserved. Texas’ Sam Ehlinger was No. 4, Georgia’s Jake Fromm was No. 5, Stanford’s KJ Costello was No. 6 and Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez was No. 7.

What Paul Myerberg wrote about the sophomore from Fresno:

It might be too soon to anoint Martinez as one of the nation's best, but the potential is there for the Nebraska sophomore to make an under-the-radar charge at some end-of-season hardware. He was a revelation amid the Cornhuskers' debut under Scott Frost, who has helped to develop his fair share of quarterback standouts. Martinez will be his latest star.

I wrote about Martinez after his first season wrapped up. About him finishing his first year fourth in the Big Ten in 10-yard gains and seventh among all D1 quarterbacks. About him finishing 16th in the country in total offense per game and 29th in completion percentage and 45th in yards per play. His 12 fumbles were second-most at the FBS level, but that’s about the only thing you can nitpick about his game and that particular area figures to get better with maturity and time (which was the case as his first season progressed). 

Said linebacker Luke Gifford after a season-ending loss to Iowa: “The sky is the limit, I don’t think he has a ceiling. Especially in this system and the guys he has around him. It’s going to be tough to stop them in the next couple of years. I wouldn’t want to play defense against them that’s for sure."

Said running back Devine Ozigbo: “I expect to see a Heisman in the next three years. I feel he’s a guy that can do it. He’s playing crazy for a freshman. Giving this kid more time to grow, develop and learn the offense will be bad for everyone else. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Scott Frost and Co. already feel like the clock has started with their quarterback. You just never want to waste a once-in-a-long-time talent like that at the most pivotal position in the sport. The comparisons to Oregon stud Marcus Mariota feel inevitable at this point, and Oregon played for a national title with Mariota at the helm. Like Myerberg said, it might be a little too soon to look that far down the road, but the fact those thoughts are there — the “we have to win with this kid before we don’t have him anymore” thoughts — means Nebraska feels pretty strongly about what it has. 

And what it has, adding USA Today to the laundry list of people who agree, is one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

Erstad’s Right

Pitcher Robbie Palkert said, via multiple outlets that camped out near the baseball facilities Monday afternoon, Erstad was a father figure for him. Almost every player you saw come across your TV during the news that night looked either shocked or sad. 

But, there was understanding, too. 

“I have made the extremely difficult decision to step away from coaching,” Erstad said in the initial press release announcing his resignation. “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. I want to thank our administration and academic staff for all of their support over the last eight years. GBR forever.”

He said later that he had polled other coaches he knew about their biggest regrets. Not seeing their kids was the overwhelming majority of the responses. After 14 years playing in the majors and eight years coaching the Huskers, can you blame him for wanting to be a family man? That’s nearly a quarter a century dedicated to one of the more time-intensive sports around. 

“Darin earned the right to lead this baseball program well into the future, and I was hopeful that would be the case,” Moos said in a press release, but Erstad also earned the right to go out on his own terms. 

"This is something that I think he's been contemplating for some time," Moos said later Monday night. "It really centers around nothing else other than he wants to spend more time around his family."

Most of the time, the first inclination after an abrupt departure is to wonder what’s going on behind the scenes. Skepticism of the stated reasons for leaving rise and questions about underlying motives pop up. 

Could Erstad want to get back into coaching five years from now? Maybe. But he doesn’t seem to want to do it right now, and that’s fine. This isn’t quitting. It appears Erstad has had these thoughts for a while, but after a 24-28 2018 season that saw the Huskers finish 10th in the league and miss the conference tournament, waiting to go out until after he had righted the ship and propped the team up with a strong foundation for future success should earn him respect from everyone.

The Last Strike

Strike one was a pretty big one. Maurice Washington has two charges facing him in California — one under the state’s “Revenge Porn” law, a misdemeanor, and one for possession of child pornography, a felony — and a trial looming with a new court date next week.

Strike two was insignificant in relation to the severity of strike one, but it’s still a strike. 

The old addage says he has one flub left. If even that. 

Short of a brief statement from the Nebraska Athletic Department that they were aware of the situation regarding Washington’s cite and release for possession of drug paraphernalia on Tuesday and are handling it internally, there hasn’t been any word on Washington’s future with the Nebraska football team. 

There likely won’t until the California case is resolved. That’s the way it should be — punishment only comes after admission of guilt — but Washington is pushing his luck. 

Nebraska has runners. It has athletes who have done things the right way that deserve opportunities same as Washington. Nebraska isn’t in a position where it needs the mercurial football talent that Washington possesses. I’m not convinced that would inform Scott Frost’s decision on the matter even if Nebraska did need him, but they don’t, which seemingly makes any decision easier. 

Washington’s certainly had a tough go of it throughout his childhood. Wanting to keep him in a situation with structure and guidance is admirable and if that’s the decision Nebraska comes to, that’s the decision Nebraska comes to. I honestly don’t know what my play would be here, and I’m certainly in no position to say what the Huskers should and shouldn’t do. 

But Washington needs to be smarter. He needs to lay extremely low because the perception of him is at an all-time low and that can be used against him in California. Strike three and Nebraska has no decision to make anymore. 

 
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