CEDAR RAPIDS — Brian Erbe sported a blue windbreaker at a preseason softball practice. And a broad smile.
“To be the head coach at the place I went to school … it’s an awesome feeling,” said Erbe, the new head coach at Cedar Rapids Jefferson.
“I had 10 great years here as an assistant. I had 10 great years as a head coach (at Cedar Rapids Xavier). I’m looking forward to some great times ahead here.”
Erbe, 58, was hired in August to succeed Larry Niemeyer, who was not retained following the 2012 season. Erbe’s appointment at Jefferson is one of four coaching changes at the seven Metro schools that field softball programs. Elsewhere:
* Nikki Price, who served as interim coach at Xavier last year while Erbe was recovering from a heart attack, was elevated to head coach.
* Joe Yegge was hired at Prairie, adding to his responsibilities as Kirkwood Community College coach.
* Mike Shipley takes over at Linn-Mar. Shipley had coached in the Linn-Mar baseball program the last 13 years.
The blockbuster move in the area took place last October, when Jim White announced he was leaving Clear Creek Amana after 18 seasons — and six state championships — to take over at rival Solon.
“I’m getting used to a lot of new things,” White said. “My wardrobe is one of them. I have to get a lot of new clothes in orange.”
Erbe put the Xavier softball program on the map, taking the Saints to state five times. Now, he accepts the challenge of maintaining Jefferson’s run of excellence.
The J-Hawks went to state 18 times under Niemeyer, most recently in 2009.
“We had a really good spring,” said senior Kaitlyn Davidson. “I hope people underestimate us.”
First baseman Maddie Koolbeck said the transition has been smooth.
“Most of the terms are similar,” she said. “The drills are pretty much the same we’ve used the last four years.
“The difference is that (Erbe) wants the seniors to have a leadership role. He’s the coach and he’s in charge, but he makes sure that we have a say.”
Erbe was around the Jefferson program during the championship years of 1997 and 1998; his daughter, Liz, was a pitcher and catcher during that run.
“I learned an awful lot from Larry,” he said. “A lot of things are going to be similar. I’m not sure the casual fan will notice a difference.
“We’ve turned a couple kids around to make them slappers. We’re going to run and try to put pressure on the other team. We’re going to try to take advantage of our big field, hit the gaps and take extra bases.”
White, meanwhile, leaves behind the state’s premier program. He inherits last year’s Class 3A state runner-up team.
“It was a tough emotional process,” he said. “Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think there were many fences that need mending. I want (CCA) to do well. I’m proud of what we’ve done there.
“On the other hand, I do know that I’m not looking forward to June 6 (when the Spartans go to Oxford).”
Solon returns just four starters, but those four provide an excellent nucleus. And three former Clippers, including all-state infielder Mallory Madsen, opted to transfer to Solon.
“They lost a lot to graduation, but the talent is good,” White said. “I really don’t know how it will go, but I want these kids to enjoy the process of being successful.”
Same goes for Erbe, whose new team lost six seniors from a 36-6 campaign.
“I think we have a lot of talent, kids that have played behind some great players for four years,” he said. “Maybe people think we’ll be down. I hope they do.”