Former Houston Astros manager Phil Garner isn't itching to return to the dugout. He's happy to do it temporarily for an old friend, though.
Garner, who led the Astros to their first World Series in 2005, debuted Wednesday as interim coach at the University of Houston-Victoria, a first-year NAIA program started by former Astros teammate Terry Puhl.
While Puhl coaches Canada at an Olympic qualifier through mid-March, Garner will be in charge of his Jaguars back home. They haven't collaborated this much since they spent seven seasons together with the Astros in the 1980s.
"He's got the bar so high down here, I'm embarrassed to come down here and try to coach this team," joked Garner, who took over a team with a 12-2 record. "He hoodwinked me into doing this."
It's the second coaching coup in less than a year for this 2,900-student school a little more than 100 miles southwest of Houston. The first was hiring Puhl, a career .280 hitter who spent 14 of his 15 seasons with the Astros, to build a program from scratch.
UH-Victoria officials knew about Puhl's Olympic commitment when they hired him in August, but they couldn't have been thinking about bringing in Garner to fill the gap. He wasn't fired in Houston until a week after they hired Puhl, who has been Garner's stockbroker since their playing days ended.
Now UH-Victoria is just trying to take advantage of a chance to build momentum for the young program. It's a good place to try. Victoria has never had a college baseball team, and the town has strong baseball ties, like many others in South Texas.
Word of Garner's stint sparked an increase in calls about tickets, said UH-Victoria athletic director Ashley Walyuchow.
"There was probably more interest for the season opener. That was the first-ever collegiate game," Walyuchow said. "The hype, it's been different. It's more circus-like than it has been."
Wednesday's opponent for a doubleheader was Huston-Tillotson, another tiny NAIA school from Austin. That's not quite the Chicago White Sox, who swept Houston in the '05 World Series. But that doesn't matter much to Garner.
"I'm looking forward to this. I think I'll have a good time with it," he said. "I want to try to sort of mesh with what Terry's trying to teach them. If there's anything else I can throw into the pit and teach them, then good."