NORTH LEWISBURG – The Triad Cardinals are going to have a few huge holes to fill next year after a state championship game run that saw them finish second. Two outfielders, the shortstop and the biggest fan in the dugout are graduating, and now the skipper is walking away.
After nearly two decades coaching at Triad, head coach Will Nichols is stepping away from the program, sporting a 377-167 record in 19 years.
“There’s a lot of pride and tradition, of course. I had a lot of help along the way. I had my coaches. And the parents and players trusting me and my judgments. It was a total team effort. They took me in and we made results,” Nichols said.
The Cardinals were a bit of a door mat before Nichols arrived, but he’s transformed the team into perennial threats to win 20 games.
“It’s very rewarding and it’s also kind of sad, because we built a pretty good thing up there. I’m going to miss a lot of the people and my players and the fans,” Nichols said. “Everybody’s always treated me with respect and I’m going to miss that. We’ve created a lot of good times and a lot of good memories.
“Playing in two state titles are two big memories, right there. Players are what you remember the most, but when you talk about games, it’s the losses that you remember the most, because they always seem to hurt,” Nichols said. “There were some big wins along the way, but those dreadful losses, like the 2011 loss and the 2007 loss – that was painful. Those kids deserved to move on. And not just those classes, but some other classes as well. Every year was special, I think.”
Nichols guided the Cardinals to state championship game berths in 2004 and 2016, going out on a bittersweet note with a loss in the title game last Saturday.
Now, he’s set his sights on his family.
“My son is a big part of it right now. I obviously want to be around for his baseball games. I have to put him ahead of my players,” Nichols said. “I’ve not made a decision yet. I will more than likely end up somewhere else coaching next year. As far as where, I’m not totally sure just yet. I will know more in a few weeks. Where I’m at right now, it’s just not going to work out to coach at Triad. If I could, I sure would. There’s plenty in the cupboard. Triad’s always had some tough, gritty kids. They’re just gutsy players.”
And those players are what Nichols’ success will be measured by and what he’ll remember the most.
“It wasn’t always just about wins. It was just about doing the right things and having the right attitude and setting the right goals,” he said. “Because if you don’t have that in baseball, how are you going to have it in life?
“When we talk about baseball and my players, it wasn’t just about winning every ballgame. It was about learning on and off the field. I’ve gotten a lot of texts and e-mails telling me how much they’re going to miss me and how much I meant to their son,” a tearful Nichols said. “I guess you just don’t realize how many people you affect. I’m just thankful to be a part of all those positive experiences. All my players, they just mean the world to me. Past and present.”
And hopefully, future.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.