Garrido relishes role as 'teacher'
Enough of this player nonsense, coaches have personality too. To prove that, Campus Crawl talked to a man with — if nothing else — credentials up the wazoo. Texas' Augie Garrido is the all-time winningest Division I baseball coach. He has 1,535 wins entering this weekend's super regional against Mississippi.
Garrido guided the Longhorns to the national championship in 2002, followed by third place in '03 and second in '04. Including his time at Cal State Fullerton and Illinois, he's won a national title in four straight decades (1979, 1984 and 1995 at Fullerton, 2002 at Texas). A five-time national coach of the year, Garrido — a man who described his personality to me as being "way too weird" — let me annoy him before he prepares for yet another title.
Mike Hall: Which one of your Longhorns is the goofiest?
Augie Garrido: Well, there's a lot of different definitions of goofiest, and there's a lot of different candidates for that. The players would probably go with Chance Wheeless.
Hall: Why's that?
Garrido: Because there's a chance — his first name — that he'll be wheelless. No. Why? Because my assistant said so. No, it's because he has a little different take on things. He's got a little bohemia to him and, well, his nickname's Sleepy. He kind of sleepwalks through things, and as a result he doesn't see things the way that someone who isn't sleepy would. But he's a good player and a good kid. I guess he gets about as much ribbing from his teammates as anybody.
Hall: What do your players rib you for?
Garrido: I don't know.
Hall: Nothing to your face, at least?
Garrido: I really don't know. Most likely they do, though.
Hall: You look at college softball games, and the girls are often standing on the benches, dancing and shouting out choreographed cheers. Yet, college baseball? Nothing. No dancing, no singing, very little choreography. Why not, Augie?
Garrido: I don't know. I guess umm, the girls are out there dancing with each other and the guys probably are the typical guys standing in the corner afraid to ask the girls to dance.
Hall: After four trips to the College World Series in the last five years, how does this season compare with previous ones?
Garrido: They all have their own identity. This one [had the] unusual injuries, but it's all part of the battle as we move through the season.
Hall: You're playing a best-of-three super regional series at Mississippi this weekend to make it to Omaha again for the College World Series. Do you like the best-of-three format?
Garrido: Yeah, I do. I think it's good for the fans. I think the super regional concept is good for college baseball. The double elimination deal is really tough. It's tough on the teams. So going into the CWS, [you get] the eight teams that are most deserving.
Hall: You played in the CWS in 1959...
Garrido: Man, you've done your research. I didn't know they kept records that far back.
Hall: How is it different as a coach versus a player?
Garrido: The first time I went back as a coach was 1975 — and it's a lot different. As a player, you're doing your best and having fun and you're with your teammates. You're going through the practices and you're excited about the games. As a coach, you're playing every pitch offensively and defensively. So you have a lot more on your mind. But still there's that sense of involvement — playing that role on the team — and there's all the excitement and adrenaline rushes that go along with that.
Hall: My guess would be you'd be more nervous as a coach than as a player. Is that right?
Garrido: I'm not nervous about things. I just watch and try to anticipate and try to keep the environment consistent for the players and not let the things that surround us interfere with the performances.
Hall: How do former players — especially those trying to make it in the minors — stay in touch with you ?
Garrido: Well, I don't have an e-mail, so that's probably the only way they don't. We talk and get together on holidays. There's a golf tournament in California, a former player from the 1979 team puts it on, connected to professional baseball and college baseball and over a hundred-and-something people are there. [Mark] Kotsay, [Phil] Nevin, [Tim] Wallach, the list goes on and on. So I go to that even though I don't play golf. New Year's reunion every year out there, too.
Hall: You mentioned you don't use e-mail. Do you use the Internet at all?
Garrido: No. I don't know how. That's for you guys. I'm afraid of it, too. My name might pop up. I don't have very thick skin, Mike, and my feelings hurt easily.
Hall: Eight straight top-15 recruiting classes. If I'm a recruit, what's the first thing you say to try to get me to Austin?
Garrido: The first thing would be that we need to see if we have a match here. It's gonna be about player development. And that means making changes. And that sometimes is difficult. We need to see if we respect each other and trust each other and [can] work with each other and be on each others' side and stand up for each other. Whether you can accept it from your side and we can accept it from our side based on all that we're gonna go through together. There isn't anything that will guarantee a smooth ride because baseball doesn't provide that for anyone. It's about how do we interact, and how our relationship will be in the worst of times. It's all easy in the best of times. So, it would be about trying to reveal my personality and my value system, because it's all about having the mental toughness to remain confident in yourself while this game is beating you to death. Hah, silently beating you to death. So that's where I start.
Hall: I bet that's tough to do, especially with limited time.
Garrido: Well, coach [Tommy] Harmon leads the recruiting. He deserves the credit and he's responsible. I serve more as an aide to him.
Hall: You've had 11 players selected in the first round of the MLB draft. How involved are you when a player gets drafted?
Garrido: None at all. Unless I am asked a question. Coach Harmon handles that as well. I plan out practices and player development on an individual basis. I'm more the schoolteacher.
Hall: Does a coach objectively know that "this kid is going to make it, he's got big-league stuff"?
Garrido: You can say that. You're still going to have a high percentage of inaccuracy. People who have spent their whole lives in scouting miss to the tune of millions of dollars because it's based on personality. It's not based on body type. Some of it is, but once [you look at] all the speed, power, arm, physical grace of the athlete, then it's finally about the mind and the heart and soul and commitment and work ethic of a player. The character of a player — that's what makes the difference. And that's hard to measure.
Hall: What's the most embarrassing moment you've ever had as a coach?
Garrido: I don't get embarrassed very easy.
Hall: You've never had like a Don Zimmer moment — falling down at third base or anything?
Garrido: Well, it may have embarrassed others! I'm not saying I haven't done several embarrassing things. I mean, I call people by the wrong name all the time. And if that's a senior moment, then that might embarrass a lot of people. But I'm not embarrassed, I just keep on going. Van Hook and Van Horne I got mixed up the other day, and I heard a bunch of chuckles by the team, but did it embarrass me? No. But it isn't that I'm beyond embarrassment, though I don't feel that emotion much. I don't think I'm controlling enough to get embarrassed by something that doesn't work. I don't see it as my responsibility to make things work. I know I can't.
Hall: What makes you laugh?
Garrido: Everything makes me laugh. I do like to laugh. I enjoy life. I enjoy every day. I enjoy the players. I admire and respect the difficulties they encounter. I see them as great opportunities to play a role in their lives. And who they are as people means a lot more than who they are as players. Being a player is a temporary thing. As long as I've been around, less than 1 percent of them have ever made a living in professional baseball to a point where they never had to work again. I think college baseball is mainly important as an educational tool — and we use it that way. Baseball is a life-skills class on how to do anything right from beginning to end. That's how I see it.
Hall: But is there any comedic act that you get a kick out of? A Bill Cosby act?
Garrido: Oh yeah, I really respect performances. They're an expression of a person's individuality and talent. And I think that's really important. And whether its singing, dancing, playing music or being in a marching band, all of those things give people an opportunity to express themselves. And I respect that. I don't care whether it's a chef at a fine restaurant or 10 kids putting together a band to try and be rock 'n' roll stars. I like that. Getting out there and showing the courage to be themselves, and take the risk to march through life, man.
Hall: Growing up in Illinois, I've been to U of I's campus a bunch. How much do you miss the south wind in Champaign?
Garrido: I don't miss that! Hah, you have to have a sense of humor to be there. No, I like Champaign. I like Illinois. I think Chicago is one of the great cities in the world. I really enjoyed the time I spent in Champaign and still know some wonderful people that live there.
Hall: I like that campus, too. It gets knocked sometimes, but I think it's great.
Garrido: Yep, and Chicago's close enough, you can get there if you need more.
Hall: But that south wind blows, you're in trouble.
Garrido: Well, it does become a different environment. Just keep the pig farms where they belong, and the baseball field where it is [laughter].
Mike Hall is the signature anchor for ESPNU.