CEDAR RAPIDS — Jefferson grad. Jefferson guy.
And now, Jefferson coach.
Calling himself “humbled and privileged,” Brian Erbe accepted Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s offer to succeed Larry Niemeyer as the school’s softball coach Tuesday.
“Certainly, I have some big shoes to fill,” Erbe said. “I look forward to the challenge of continuing the tradition.”
Erbe, 58, spent the last 10 seasons as the head coach at Cedar Rapids Xavier. Under his watch, the Saints built a strong program — 324-150 with five state-tournament appearances.
He suffered a heart attack in May and underwent triple-bypass surgery. Nikki Price served as the interim coach as Xavier went 24-18.
Erbe says he has received a clean bill of health.
“I’ve been cleared to go to work,” he said. “Health is not an issue.”
Erbe graduated from Jefferson in 1972 and serves as an at-risk facilitator at his alma mater. He served as an assistant for Niemeyer for 10 years before accepting the Xavier coaching position in 2003.
“I have a lot of respect for Larry and the tradition of Jefferson softball that he created,” Erbe said. “He taught me the discipline it takes to be successful, the hard work it takes to be successful, the dedication it takes to be successful.”
Jefferson principal Chuck McDonnell did not renew Niemeyer’s contract after the 2012 season. Niemeyer is the nation’s winningest coach at 2,089-429 in 52 seasons.
“I figured Brian would get it,” Niemeyer said. “He’ll do a great job. He knows the program, he knows the kids. He’s in the building, and that will be a definite plus.”
Niemeyer was the head coach and Erbe was an assistant when the J-Hawks won back-to-back state titles in 1997 and 1998. Erbe’s daughter, Liz Erbe Wulff, is an IGHSAU Hall of Fame softball player was a pitcher and catcher on those teams.
“I have a lot of fond memories from those years,” Erbe said.
McDonnell said, “Coach Erbe has a great respect for the winning tradition of J-Hawk softball from having been a part of the program at its pinnacle. I know he will work tirelessly to give the players great experiences as they work to be the best team in Iowa.”
Jefferson has been to state 18 times, most recently in 2009. The J-Hawks were 36-6 last season, winning an MVC divisional title but losing in the regional finals for the third straight year.
Six starters from that team have graduated.
“We’ve got some rebuilding to do, but we’ve got some good kids coming up,” Erbe said.
Top returners include seniors Brooke Stauffer, Maddie Koolbeck, Kaitlyn Davidson and Amber Grimm, junior Madison Blietz and sophomore Maddie Hansen.
Xavier Athletics Director Mike Winker said he was “happy for Brian, but sad for Xavier.
“Brian put our softball program on the map,” Winker said. “I vividly remember our conversation when he was hired 10 years ago — he said he was totally committed to Xavier, but if the Jefferson job opened up, he might be interested.
“So I knew that this might eventually happen. Brian is a good guy and a good friend, and I am happy for him personally.”