Garrido sets wins record with passion for teaching

Updated: July 3, 2007, 9:22 PM ET
By Michael Freer | ESPN.com

Editor's note: This week, ESPN.com is profiling a few of the NCAA's winningest coaches in their respective sports.

Here are the last words you would expect to hear from the NCAA's all-time winningest Division I baseball coach:

Augie Garrido
AP PhotoAugie Garrido celebrates with his 1984 national championship team at Cal State Fullerton.
"I'm not passionate about the game of baseball."

Now, make no mistake, Texas coach Augie Garrido loves his sport. After all, you don't stay in the same profession for nearly four decades unless you enjoy your job.

And he loves to win. He is one of just three coaches to win five or more national championships. (The legendary Rod Dedeaux won 11 at Southern California, and LSU's Skip Bertman won five.)

But after 39 years of coaching, the man with 1,629 victories says he understands his role in baseball. For Garrido, the baseball diamond is not an athletic field. It's a classroom. He doesn't have players; he has students.

"The life lessons are what make baseball so valuable," Garrido said. "There's a magic in it. The people are what make the game so special.

"Baseball is such a negative game," he continued. "But, [baseball] puts into play all the character that a person has in him. It reveals who you are."

Character values are what Garrido, 68, has tried to instill in his players, while at the same time trying to lead one of the premier baseball programs in the nation. It's that mentality of being a teacher first and a coach second that allows him to deflect any credit as the nation's all-time wins leader.

"The winning doesn't belong to me," Garrido said. "My name is next to them thanks to the efforts of so many other people.

"[The record] allows me to stand up for all those people that have had an effect on my life," he said. "I know the reality of what [the record] is. This is a team sport, and I've had a role. A leadership role.

"No general ever won a war by himself."

His words of wisdom are not designed for just his players. When new Longhorns women's basketball coach Gail Goestenkors was making one of the biggest decisions in her life in April -- whether to leave a successful program at Duke and replace coaching legend Jody Conradt -- it was Garrido who helped lead her down the path to Austin.

"I talked to him on my first visit to Texas," Goestenkors said. "In those 10 minutes, he had a profound impact on my decision.

"He talked about the challenge of taking over for a legend, about how it's the most difficult thing a coach can do.

"He is a person very much in the moment, in the present," she added. "He speaks from the heart. And I love people who speak from their heart."

Meeting challenges is a lesson Garrido learned almost from childhood. Born in 1939 in Vallejo, Calif., to parents from the Great Depression era, Garrido grew up watching his father work tirelessly at the local shipyard. His father believed it was inevitable that his son would join him at that shipyard one day.

But Garrido soon developed a passion for baseball, and when he told his father about his dream of going to college and playing baseball, the response was less than encouraging.

Augie Garrido
Peter Aiken/WireImage.comAugie Garrido makes sure to spend time with each of his players before Texas took on Florida at the 2005 College World Series.
"My father said, 'You can't do that,'" Garrido said. "He expected me to work with him in the shipyard. But I wanted to go to college."

It was then that Garrido developed his drive to win. "I was basically telling my father, 'I'll show you I can do this. I'll prove it to you,'" he said.

After graduating from Fresno State in 1961 and spending time in the Cleveland Indians farm system, Garrido wound up getting his first head coaching position in 1969, at San Francisco State. (He was also the freshman football coach. "I didn't even know how to huddle them up," he said.)

A three-year stint at Cal Poly followed. Then came the job that would define Garrido's life in more ways than just coaching: Cal State Fullerton.

He took the position in 1973, and by 1975, the Titans' first season in Division I, Garrido led them to the College World Series, defeating five-time defending national champion USC in the NCAA regionals along the way.

By 1979, Garrido had led the Titans to their first national championship in just their fifth Division I season. He would go on to win two more national titles at Fullerton (1984, 1995).

From the outside, everything seemed perfect for Garrido. He had taken a baseball program from a small university and not just made it successful but made it one of the powerhouse teams in the nation. But somewhere between his first two title-winning teams, Garrido realized the person he had become was miles from the person he wanted to be.

Back then, "It was all about winning the ring," he said. "In 1979, when we won it all, I felt like I had done everything."

It was at that point, Garrido said, that he was forced to "reinvent" himself.

"I was putting the reward ahead of everything else. That 1980 season, when we didn't win it all, I found out I was a lonely person. I didn't want to give [the national title] up."

After the 1996 season, the man who never seems to have backed down from a challenge was presented with perhaps the biggest of his professional life.

It's one thing to build a program from the ground up, meaning there is little pressure attached to the job. However, when you replace one of the all-time greats in the coaching profession, as Garrido did at Texas in 1997 when he succeeded a retiring Cliff Gustafson, it's much different.

"I've always enjoyed the challenges and opportunities," Garrido said of his decision to leave one highly successful program for another. "As I've said, replacing a legend is the hardest thing to do in sports."

After initially struggling (52-54-1 combined record, with no NCAA Tournament appearances, in his first two seasons), Garrido has led the Longhorns to nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances, five College World Series appearances and two national championships (2002, 2005).

For all his teachings and leadership, Garrido understands how important a winning program is in Austin. So when the Longhorns fail to reach the super regionals, as they have done each of the past two seasons, he knows the team's performance is viewed as unacceptable by many fans.

"Believe me, I have tremendous respect for our fans and alumni who want to see us win," Garrido said. "I know the realities of my role to them. For us, the low-water mark is reaching the College World Series, so I'm sure they are not happy."

But the drive to win will never steer Garrido away from his ultimate goal -- to teach. He is working on a book that will incorporate much of the wisdom he has imparted to his players in his 39 years of coaching. Although there is no title yet, there is a theme.

"It will talk a lot about overcoming your fears," Garrido said. "Fear is always going to be there. Now, does your confidence allow you to overcome King Fear?"

Michael Freer is a researcher for ESPNU. E-mail him at michael.freer@espn.com.

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