Remembering a College Coaching Legend

(Photo via MySA.com, seen here)

College baseball lost a legend with the recent passing of longtime coach Augie Garrido. Garrido, who was 79, holds the all-time record for NCAA baseball wins and appeared in fifteen College World Series finals. The nationally beloved coach is most known for leading the Cal-State Fullerton Titans to three NCAA championships and elevating that program to national prominence, as well as revitalizing the Texas Longhorns to two titles of their own. Garrido’s 1,975 wins, College World Series appearances (he won five) and conference titles cement his status as arguably the greatest NCAA baseball coach of all time. Augie’s legacy as a brilliant coach who knew how to teach players and win ballgames is well-established, but Garrido’s is also known as a masterful teacher and mentor who focused on more than his team’s record on 48 seasons of coaching.

Discussions with two of Garrido’s former players during his early years in Austin reveal his brilliant and even groundbreaking focus on the more underappreciated sides of coaching and mentoring players. Stanford assistant Tommy Nicholson played at Texas from 1998-2000 and later coached under Augie in Austin. When asked about his former head coach’s lessons, Nicholson immediately mentioned Garrido’s emphasis on a less obvious parts of the game. “One of the biggest lessons from Augie is how playing and coaching relates to the mental side of the game,” Nicholson said. “He always worked with us on understanding when we’re out of control, how to perform under pressure and what to go to mentally when the situation gets too big.” Nicholson says that lesson has stuck with him. “He always said ‘You’re here for a reason.’ He was able to take guys from being good at times to great, and fully in control of the mental side of the game.”

Former Longhorn pitcher Beau Hale also mentioned Garrido’s focus on the mental part of the game stood out during his time in burnt orange. “That was one of the things that caught me off guard about Augie,” Hale said. “He was more about getting the most out of your ability instead of mechanical or physical stuff. Baseball is a negative sport. You can’t have your mind in the way, so he was all about getting players prepared, motivated and mentally locked in to reach their potential.”

Garrido’s focus on the mentality of ballplayers, or “the neck up” as Hale described, wasn’t the only thing that caught players off guard about the coach. “I remember seeing a picture on [Augie’s] desk of him with Demi Moore and Bruce Willis,” Hale said. Garrido was also a good friend of actor Kevin Costner, who would make semi-regular appearances in the Longhorn dugout during Garrido’s tenure. “He really was a larger than life persona instead of just your coach.”

Though individual mental strength was a pillar of Augie’s coaching philosophy, Hale and Nicholson both mentioned a new energy and emphasis on winning as a team that Augie brought with him into the Texas program that set the tone for long-term success. “He was so real and relatable despite the age gap with his players,” Nicholson said of Garrido. Most players called him ‘Augie’ even though he didn’t ask to be called that.” Hale called back to a similar familiarity and comfort level with Garrido. “All of a sudden, I could tell Texas had a lot of energy coming in with Augie after the program had flat-lined,” Hale recalled about his recruiting process. “Augie was already one of the best coaches ever [before he came to Texas] and his energy helped me decide on Texas.”

Nicholson and Hale arrived at Texas in 1998 as a part of Garrido’s first full recruiting class. Hale says that though their freshman class was talented and included four high school state MVPs, those early seasons were not pretty. “We were a terrible team with an all-freshman rotation and a lot of growing pains,” Hale said of the 1998 and 1999 Longhorns, who went 59-58-1 during those seasons. However, Garrido had a plan in place that was realized sooner than Hale and Nicholson could have imagined through those first two mediocre seasons. “When Augie was recruiting me, he mentioned that we would be the cornerstones of turning the program around,” Hale said.

That process culminated in a College World Series berth for the Longhorns in 2000. Though that Texas squad was bounced from the Series early, Hale is confident that Texas team was a sign of things to come for Augie’s Longhorns down the road. “It was great to see that process come to fruition,” Hale said of the 2000 team and Augie’s first CWS in Austin. “It was a lot more fun when we went through those bumps and bruises earlier, and we feel like we laid the groundwork for future Texas teams.”

Hale suggested that Garrido’s emphasis on winning as a team lent itself to one of Augie’s most well-known on-the-field strategies: small ball. Though sometimes mocked by Texas fans, Garrido’s teams were known to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move a runner over at any time in the game and with any hitter at the plate. Though that strategy may not have as much support among programs and pro teams now, Hale described the purpose behind it as more than just an on-field strategy. “Baseball can be a one-on-one game between a pitcher and a hitter, but the small ball philosophy motivated everyone to be on the same page,” Hale said. “He always wanted guys who could play defense, handle the bat and run.”

Hale went on to play seven pro seasons in the Orioles system after being drafted by Baltimore in the first round in 2000. Hale would work out regularly in those off-seasons at Texas’ Disch-Falk field, where he would have time to catch up with Augie. Nicholson was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the same year and played six pro seasons, then coached for Augie first as a volunteer assistant and then as an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator during Garrido’s last three seasons. Hale mentioned appreciating Augie’s team-oriented philosophy even after his college days, especially after experiencing the rigors of the pro environment. “At the professional level, there’s not as much of that team chemistry with guys always trying to get to the next level,” Hale said. “I really respected Augie’s team atmosphere and his philosophy for team success more after seeing that.”

Augie Garrido’s on-field success will never be diminished. He coached in six different decades at five different schools and compiled an astounding number of accolades including conference titles, NCAA titles and total win numbers that could go unmatched for a long time. “Augie’s whole life was college baseball,” said Nicholson when asked to sum up Augie’s legacy. “His focus was on the betterment of the game and teaching good players to become good young men.” Even with the numbers and accolades, it’s clear Augie was more than his on the field record. Discussing his legacy with former players like Hale and Nicholson makes it more obvious how should be remembered. “His teams were never about following the lead of a single high draft prospect or an All-American,” Hale said. “Everyone was together and the whole purpose was to win together.”

Curtis Leister

Staff Writer for CBBSN.

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