The rumor is now fact. Veteran Triad High School baseball coach Will Nichols made it official Monday night at the team banquet that he is resigning after 19 seasons in the Cardinals dugout.
The announcement came two days after Triad’s heartbreaking 5-4 loss to defending state champ Newark Catholic in the Division IV state championship game. But it had been long anticipated by those close to the program.
“They pretty much knew when I took the new job at the beginning of the year that this was probably going to be it for me,” he admitted.
Still, Nichols would not say this was what motivated his team to play at a different level during the postseason. Going into the state title game, the Cardinals had outscored their postseason opponents 42-1.
“I’ve never asked the kids if that was their motivation,” he said. “I never wanted to make the season about me and don’t think we ever did.”
Nichols, who works as a career-based intervention specialist for Springfield Career Center at Shawnee High School, ends his 19 years at Triad with a 377-164 record and two state runner-up teams. The Cards, who were also state runners-up in 2004, had been to the state semis once , in 1973, prior to Nichols taking over.
“It took some time at the beginning to figure out some things, but we we’re able to build a successful program,” he said. “It was really a great experience for me.”
The 15th-ranked Cardinals finished 26-8. It was their effort that made leaving even harder.
“It was difficult to make the decision,” he said. “I have a lot of great memories up here. I’ve met a lot of good friends. These are lifetime relationships, and very good ones. And how the community supported the kids, and how they took me in … it has really been overwhelming the last four or five days.
“There were so many of my former players at that game Saturday night,” he continued. “My players mean a lot to me. Triad kids are gritty kind of kids who are fighters and give 100 percent all the time.”
Nichols pointed to the state title game as proof. Triad was down 4-0 after the first inning but responded with three runs in the second to make it a nail-biter to the last out.
“We battled the whole game, and we never gave up,” he said. “That grit is the foundation of the program. We don’t always have that typical D-I kind of baseball player, but we always went out there and got the job done some way, somehow.”
Nichols said the 2004 state runner-up team set the standard for the program.
“Ever since then, because of them, all my teams have had the belief that they could make it back to state,” he said. “That has kept the program at the level it is.”
Nichols said he can’t leave coaching completely.
“I’m probably going to end up somewhere next year, but I don’t know where,” he said. “There’s a couple of possibilities. I need some time to think about some things.”
He said he has his Triad experience to thank for that.
“What those kids did for me is they revived me as a coach,” he said. “Going to state, all the excitement we got to share, now makes me want to get back.”
As for the program’s future, Nichols feels it is bright.
“There’s plenty of talent there among my assistants,” he said, “to keep this thing going.”