Fitt: Remembering Larger-Than-Life GarridoColumns
Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in the history of college baseball, died Thursday at the age of 79, a few days after being hospitalized with a stroke. All of us who work in college baseball owe Augie a great debt of gratitude — he was a giant in our world, and he did as much for college baseball as anyone ever has.
The column below originally ran when Garrido stepped aside as Texas’ head coach after the 2016 season — but all of the sentiments here still apply. I’ve run into Augie a few times since he’s retired, and I’ll always treasure the stories he told at the end of a long night in Omaha last year, or the moment when I got to be a fly on the wall as Augie and Gene Stephenson told war stories at the ABCA convention this year (as they stood in the middle of a busy foyer, I witnessed so many coaches staring in awe, and overheard many of them debating whether or not it would be rude to interrupt for a handshake or a photo. That’s the kind of reverence these college baseball legends had earned).
At the end, Augie was at peace with his incredible body of work and his legacy. A look back at that legacy, from June of 2016:
Even while Augie Garrido spent all those years emphasizing the mental part of the game rather than the emotional part, and talking about “controlling the controllables” and trying to inure his players against the dreaded effects of pressure, Garrido never hid from expectations, never tried to downplay the stakes. Pressure is a dirty word around most college baseball programs, and make no mistake — Garrido regarded pressure as an enemy to be vanquished. But it was an enemy he faced head-on, with a cocky saunter and a wry half-grin, as if to say, “All right, let’s dance.”
When the Longhorns opened the 2010 season ranked No. 1 after finishing as national runners-up the spring before, Garrido said a few weeks before the season, “The nice thing about being No. 1 at Texas is we’ve got all that pressure whether you are No. 1 or not.”
In May of 2011, as Texas closed in on a national seed and an eventual trip to Omaha, Garrido said something that was even more striking: “We started out on Day One knowing that it was our responsibility to win the national championship.”
Just think about that. Forget about winning a conference title, forget about making a regional, forget making the College World Series — Garrido understood that it was his responsibility to win a national championship.
That’s an utterly insane, unreasonable expectation for any program, but the point is, the expectations at Texas are insane and unreasonable every year, like they are at LSU and maybe just a couple other programs around the country. And the fact is, over the last few years, Texas has fallen short of even the far more modest and reasonable standards that any traditional power in a major conference sets for itself.
Since that 2011 CWS run, the Longhorns have missed regionals three times in five years. In between, they made an Omaha trip in 2014 that seemingly signified that the program was back where it belongs, but the following year Texas slumped again, needing to win the 2015 Big 12 tournament and the corresponding automatic bid just to get back to a regional, where the Horns were eliminated at Dallas Baptist. And finally, this year, Texas opened the season in the Top 25 but fell out a couple of weeks into the season, and just never got on track. The Longhorns finished 25-32 overall, 10-14 in the Big 12.
So it should have been no surprise that Garrido, the winningest coach in college baseball history, a living legend in our sport, was reassigned Monday to a role as special assistant to the athletic director. He had one year left on his contract as head coach, but the man with five national championship rings (including two at Texas) is finished in the dugout at Texas.
“I owe everyone at The University of Texas a million heartfelt thank you’s,” Garrido said in a statement. “I came here to serve and I am so proud to be able to continue to serve The University in my new role as Special Assistant to Mike Perrin.”
The 77-year-old Garrido had been on thin ice before — especially heading into 2014, after two straight seasons that ended without trips to the NCAA tournament. But that 2014 Omaha run seemed to reinvigorate him and earned him a contract extension. This time around, the man who worked so much magic over the years ran out of rabbits to pull out of his burnt orange-and-white cap. After UT’s season ended Friday, he told reporters, “If I’m not back, it’s because I couldn’t control the decision that was made. But all trails end, baby. They all end.”
Control the controllables — that’s always been my favorite Augie-ism. Put another way, you can’t control what you can’t control, so don’t waste energy worrying about it. And in the end, Garrido realized he had no control over this one, and he accepted that reality.
Perrin said in the statement that he asked Garrido to serve as his special assistant “and he graciously accepted.” So at least the end was not acrimonious like it was for other college baseball Goliaths who have been forced out in recent years, like Wichita State’s Gene Stephenson or Clemson’s Jack Leggett. It’s not easy to know when it’s time to walk away, especially for some of the game’s most competitive and successful figures, but Garrido bowed out graciously.
Looking back at Garrido’s storied career, the tale of the tape is astounding. In his 48-year coaching tenure, he led teams at Cal State Fullerton, Illinois and Texas to 15 College World Series, 33 regionals, 25 conference championships and 16 regional titles. He won national championships at Fullerton in 1979, 1984 and 1995. He won national championships at Texas in 2002 and 2005. He started the Fullerton program from scratch and almost instantly turned it into a national superpower. And he restored Texas to glory during his 20 years in Austin.
Garrido will be remembered for his quirky Zen-like wisdom almost as much as for his unparalleled success on the field. Interviews with Garrido are often packed with philosophical musings and clever sayings. The man has a sharp sense of humor and knows how to use it. He’s a master of motivation — I’ll always remember the time the Longhorns were blitzed by Arizona State early in a 2009 CWS game, falling behind 6-0 after three innings. Before Texas came to bat in the top of the fourth, Garrido gathered all his players around him and reamed them out. They responded that very inning with a six-run rally against future big leaguer Mike Leake to tie the game, then went on to a 10-6 win.
Garrido owned the pre-CWS press conference every time the Longhorns made it to Omaha. He was very comfortable in that setting, and he’d inevitably crack up the whole room multiple times with some good one-liners.
Augie Garrido relished the spotlight and never flinched when the spotlight got too hot. And he earned his place on center stage over the course of five glorious decades. Those of us who were fortunate enough to spend some time around Garrido during some portion of that storied run will always be grateful for the memories and goofy anecdotes that he provided. And we will always appreciate that we had a chance to cover the greatest college baseball coach of all time.