Augie Garrido is done coaching baseball after a glorious career. The end came somewhat unceremoniously Monday when he was "reassigned" by the Texas athletic department, but let's make one thing clear:
Augie might've spent 20 years as the coach of the Longhorns, but he'll always be a Titan. Not just a titan of the sport, but a Cal State Fullerton Titan.
His legacy in Texas is getting the Longhorns back on their feet, helping the program win two more national championships after it had already won four before him. His legacy at Fullerton is pure magic, as in fashioning something wondrous out of thin air.
Chances are, without Augie Garrido, you'd never have heard of Cal State Fullerton. When he arrived at the commuter campus in 1973, he took over a nascent baseball program that had gone 12-44 the year before -- in Division II. Just two years later, the Titans moved up to Division I, and went to the College World Series that very year. Four years after that in 1979, Fullerton won its first national championship.
If you want an analogy, Garrido isn't Chris Petersen, who put Boise State on the map, but Knute Rockne, who built an enduring brand from scratch. The baseball Titans' equivalent in basketball isn't Gonzaga or Butler, but Mike Krzyzewski's Duke, with four national championships and 17 College World Series appearances in 41 years of Division I play.
In 1987, I showed up on the Fullerton campus in large part because of Garrido. After a mediocre high school baseball career, I mistakenly thought I stood a chance to make the Titans as a walk-on. While that dream was quickly dashed, I was more disappointed when Garrido left for Illinois later that year.
Much to my delight Garrido returned my senior year, but by then I had hung up my cleats and decided on another frivolous pursuit by becoming a sportswriter. I had ascended to be the sports editor of the student newspaper the Daily Titan and one of the perks was that I got to spent as much time with Augie as I wanted.
When it came to motivation, Augie was the Zen master long before Phil Jackson made it to the Chicago Bulls' bench. He could be shrill, enraged and downright profane when the moment warranted and tender and philosophical the next. You never knew which button he was going to push but he always seemed to pick the right one.
During one game that season, Garrido pulled the Titans' left-side infielders in the middle of the inning, about as humiliating a move as there is to a field player. He didn't give the hapless duo an earful when they reached the dugout except to shoot them a look that was a mixture of disgust and disappointment.
After the game, I asked Augie what that was all about. He sighed, and then mused, "I can't stand mental mistakes. Baseball is a complicated game, but not that complicated."
There was only one time I found Garrido nearly speechless. After the 1991 regular season in which the Titans had tied for the Big West championship with Fresno State, I joined him and a few coaches and players at the on-campus Marriott to watch the selection show. Much to our horror, the Titans were snubbed of a berth (the last time to date that Fullerton missed postseason play). I turned to Augie for comments, and he just shook his head before mumbling something or other.
Augie and the Titans got their revenge the next season as they made it all the way to the national championship game. Three years later, in 1995, he put together the greatest team college baseball has ever seen as Fullerton stormed to a 57-9 record, winning its last 18 games on the way to claiming the program's third national championship.
I was in Omaha for that dreamy occasion, having finagled a credential now that I was a pro covering college athletics for the San Francisco Examiner. Augie had injured his Achilles' heel before the College World Series and was tooling around on a scooter, but the pure joy he experienced that week overpowered the pain and inconvenience. He was so loose and confident that before the championship game he gathered the players around and promptly dropped his pants to reveal his boxers emblazoned with Tuffy Titan (Fullerton's elephant mascot). The players were in stitches before they went on to crush USC, 11-5, to cap their historic run.
It was during that week that I had a foreboding that Augie's time at Fullerton might be nearing its end, for good this time. He had done all he could for the program: Making it a perennial powerhouse, getting a brand-new stadium built and grooming a coaching successor in George Horton. It was time for other challenges.
Augie is a baseball lifer, but he was the life of the party, too. During his time at Fullerton, he was dashing and debonair, loved women, fine food and booze -- not necessarily in that order. He always embraced the spotlight but there was little of it at the Orange County campus even following all that success. After the 1996 season, when Texas came calling in the wake of the sudden ouster of its legendary coach Cliff Gustafson, Augie jumped at the chance.
I didn't begrudge Garrido for leaving Fullerton, though I never envisioned that he'd last 20 years in Austin. He was 57 when he took over at Texas and then guided the Longhorns to four CWS championship games, winning two. His 1,975 victories are by far the most accumulated by a college baseball coach and it's fitting, for 1975 was when his own legend began.
His records at Texas and Fullerton are pretty much at a standoff: In 20 years in Austin he'd taken the Longhorns to Omaha eight times, won 824 games and two titles. In 21 years in Fullerton, the Titans went to the CWS seven times, won 929 games and three championships.
The difference, of course, is that Texas was a blue blood of college baseball long before he got there. At Fullerton, he didn't even have the luxury of ever playing a single postseason game at home. Think about that: The Titans went to 16 regionals under Garrido and played every game on the road -- and managed to make it to Omaha nearly half of the time.
At Texas, Garrido was but one of the many greats. At Cal State Fullerton, he's George Washington. If there's a Mount Rushmore for the titans of college baseball, Augie is there with an 'F' cap on.
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