Indiana State's hiring of Rick Heller as its baseball coach Friday left Creighton's Ed Servais with mixed feelings.
He's happy for his friend and colleague, who has experienced much uncertainty through the past seven months. But Servais also was sad to lose Heller, who was planning to join the Bluejays' staff this season as an assistant.
“In a lot of ways, it's no different than when one of your players leaves to sign a pro contract,'' Servais said. “You hate to see him leave, but you're happy he's getting the opportunity.''
Creighton had planned to hire Heller as its hitting coach. He'd been a head coach the past 22 seasons at Upper Iowa and Northern Iowa, but Northern Iowa eliminated baseball at the end of last season.
Heller's decision to take the Indiana State job means Creighton will bring on a volunteer coach to join Servais and assistants Rob Smith and Brent Alwine. Servais said Smith, Creighton's pitching coach and recruiting coordinator since 2007, has been promoted to associate head coach.
“We knew Rick was being considered for the Indiana State job, so we had a plan in place in case he got it,'' Servais said. “We'll be ready to go.''
Technically, Heller was never a member of the Creighton staff. Servais had talked with Heller in June about coming aboard. Heller went through the formal application process and had been approved to be hired about the time the Indiana State job opened up in late July when Lindsay Meggs left to become the head coach at Washington.
“When we first talked, we agreed that Rick could pursue a head coaching job,'' Servais said. “At the time, other than Washington, there were no real opportunities out there. I don't think anyone could have projected the Indiana State thing would pop like it did, and when it happened, Rick decided to pursue it.''
Heller worked Creighton's baseball camp last week, Servais said, but performed no other duties for the Bluejays.
“He'd come by the office the past couple of weeks, and we'd talk, but most of the discussion was about what he needed to do to secure the Indiana State job,'' Servais said. “We never got around to talking about our players or how we like to practice or anything like that.
“Since the Indiana State job opened, we've been in a holding pattern. There was a lot of uncertainty.''
Uncertainty could have been Heller's middle name since Northern Iowa announced in February that it was eliminating its baseball program at the end of the 2009 season. He spent several months trying to raise funds to save the program, then spent the final weeks of the season preparing to shut it down.
He had to move out of his house in Cedar Falls in late June. He and his wife, Rachelle, moved to Council Bluffs in late July and were leasing a house.
“But they never unpacked,'' Servais said. “The best thing about Rick getting the Indiana State job is that he may get a chance to settle in and get his life back in order.
“He and his wife are expecting a child in a couple of weeks. With everything they've been through, they deserve to get a sense of normalcy back into their lives.”
Heller has compiled a record of 561-472-4 in 22 seasons as a head coach, including a 247-252-1 mark in 10 seasons at Northern Iowa. He led the Panthers to the 2001 Missouri Valley tournament championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament, and he coached three league players of the year.
He did it at the northernmost school in the Valley and while playing in a 63-year-old stadium. At Indiana State, Heller's team will play in a new stadium that will open next spring.
“I'm just happy for him because he certainly deserves this opportunity.'' Servais said.
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