Will Bolt, a former Nebraska player and assistant coach, will be formally introduced Thursday as the 24th head coach of the Nebraska baseball team. He brings 16 years of coaching experience to the Nebraska program, including four years as a head coach at Texarkana College. Bolt served as Nebraska’s Associate Head Coach under Darin Erstad from 2012-14 and also was a volunteer assistant on the 2005 Husker team that reached the College World Series. As a player or coach, Bolt has been a part of all three of Nebraska’s College World Series teams and all four Super Regional squads. The native of Conroe, Texas, had his first association with the Nebraska program as a player for the Huskers from 1999-2002. A member of Dave Van Horn’s first recruiting class at Nebraska, Bolt played on four NCAA regional teams and captained the Huskers’ first two College World Series teams in 2001 and 2002. He spent the past five seasons as an assistant coach at Texas A&M, coached by former Nebraska assistant Rob Childress. Bolt visited with Brian Rosenthal about his goals and expectations for the program:
BR: What’s the biggest draw for you to return to Nebraska, and why is the timing right?
Will: “Just being a Husker and loving that place. That’s the draw, and that’s the first draw, just having the passion and the love for Nebraska. That’s never gone away no matter where I’ve been or what I’ve done. I mean, as a player, I had so many good experiences there and so many memories that will last the rest of my life. That part, being a Husker, and then I just think it’s a great job. I think it’s a great time in athletics with Bill’s leadership and what he’s been able to accomplish in a short time.”
BR: Thoughts on the state of the program now?
Will: “Darin left the program in a great spot. They were really close to being 2-0 in a regional and then you’re in the driver’s seat. A lot of really good, positive things going on. They obviously went toe-to-toe with the best and had some really good wins and had a great group of young guys who contributed to the roster. That’s definitely always a positive thing that you look at. A lot of good, solid returning players. Coach and his staff did a really, really good job.”
BR: When people walk away from seeing your Nebraska baseball team play, what’s the one biggest impression you hope they have?
Will: “Just how tough they are and how hard they play. I know those are things you can bring to the field regardless of any outside circumstances. Just being able to look at the team and go, man, those guys, they get after it. They’re a group of guys that just play the game with a lot of passion. They play hard and they’re tough – they’re just mentally tough. The situations that are the biggest, they seem to come through in. They just have that ability that no matter the situation, they do whatever it takes.”
BR: What do you want the culture of your team and program to look like?
Will: “Just an open line of communication, first and foremost. We’re going to push our guys to be the best they can be. We’re going to love them, we’re going to challenge them. We’re going to set them up for life after baseball. Just that disciplined, hard-nosed approach is what we want to instill.”
BR: What’s your recruiting philosophy, beginning with instate players?
Will: “It’s essential. It’s the most important. It’s everything. It’s the lifeblood of our program, and I think it’s essential at a place like Nebraska, where there’s really good baseball. The people in the state grow up wanting to wear the red and the ‘N’ and they have a lot of passion for it. It’s essential to make sure you get the guys in state wanting to come play for the Huskers. From there, you just have to have a nice blend of maybe some experienced junior college players and some kids from surrounding areas in the Midwest. But you’ve got to start with building a barricade around the state.”
BR: How will you go about developing a coaching staff?
Will: “I can’t give names yet. But I think with building a coaching staff, the continuity, the rapport, is very important. For me, the staffs that I’ve always been on, and the staff I was on at Texarkana for four years, I wanted guys that worked really together and created kind of a family atmosphere. That’s really important. Guys you know and trust and you’re on the same page and you speak the same lingo. That’s very important. Obviously, the recruiting part of it, you’ve got to have guys who are capable of getting out there and finding the guys and evaluating the talent, and then when you get them, you’ve got to be able to develop that talent. Guys that we are going to get will have all of those attributes. We’re going to have that family-type atmosphere.”
BR: What have you learned from both Rob Childress and Dave Van Horn about leading a Division I baseball team to success?
Will: “That it’s all about the players. It’s just that when it comes down to it, we’re only as good as the players that we have. When you get the right guys and you have the mix of guys that can help you win, it’s developing those guys and it’s developing their baseball skills, but also their character. Like I said, setting guys up to have success after baseball. When it comes to putting the best product on the field, you’ve got to have the players. The recruiting part of it is the most important.”
BR: You played during the rise to the pinnacle of Nebraska baseball, so you have many fond memories, but is there one that sticks out the most?
Will: “I would say the obvious one would be making the catch in ’01 to send us to Omaha. That’s something I’ll never forget. And then making a mental note running onto the field at Rosenblatt for the first time in 2001. I literally remember thinking this is as close to the big leagues as you’re ever going to get unless you get there, with the fans and the noise and everything else. Those two memories probably stand out.”
BR: When you were a player, what drew you to Nebraska?
Will: “The coaches. The coaches were first. And then when I came on a visit, it was all about the town and kind of the passion for Nebraska. That’s what drew me there. I had a previous relationship with the coaching staff that had just been hired, so that got me there. And then when I got there, it felt like home. It was the town, the love people had for the Huskers. Everything that still holds true today, the reason we wanted to come back.”
BR: What expectations do you want fans to have for Nebraska baseball, and what’s your ultimate goal for the program?
Will: “The highest of expectations. I would expect that Husker fans want the best product possible. There’s not going to be any expectations outside that are going to be any higher than the ones we’re going to have within our program. We’re going to have the ultimate goal every year of winning the last game. If you’re not striving to do that, you probably better go find something else to do. You don’t get to that point without taking care of the small details on a day-to-day basis, and that’s really what our focus and our message is going to be to our team.”
BR: How familiar are you with Big Ten baseball, and what’s your impression on the conference in recent seasons?
Will: “Very familiar. I was able to kind of see the transition in Darin’s first year, and coached three years in the league and I’ve seen it get better and better every year, better facilities. The coaching is top-notch in the league now. You’re starting to see a lot more guys in the league stay instead of go south at times. The league is getting better and better. It’s evenly-matched. You’re going to tend to see the standings jumbled up year-in and year-out. Sixth place and first place are usually pretty close. It’s a good brand of baseball. It’s a league where you better bring it every weekend, or you’re going to get beat.”
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