(Note: This article is
part of a series, by Jeff Dahn, that highlights specific collegiate baseball
programs going into the 2011 season. To
view the articles on other schools in this series please click here.)
Augie Garrido laughs easily and offered a ready chuckle when asked about the environment in baseball-mad Austin, Texas, where he is the head coach at the University of Texas.
“Texas is a baseball state and always has been,” Garrido said. “I mean, how many other states have a hit named after them?”
In reality, a “Texas-leaguer” refers to a bloop hit that somehow found itself out of the reach of charging outfielders or back-stepping infielders. What Garrido has done at UT –following in the footsteps of an equally successful 29-year run under former coach Cliff Gunderson – looks a lot more like a home run than a bloop-single.
The Longhorns wrapped up their 2010 fall practice sessions recently and next spring will be looking to return to the College World Series after a one year absence. They will also be looking for their third straight trip to the Super Regionals and seventh since 2002.
Garrido got his first look at what will be the 2011 Longhorns during fall ball. The results were fairly typical in Garrido’s mind.
“We got to know each other a little better, and that’s kind of where it all starts,” Garrido said. “We found out we weren’t as good as we hoped we’d be, and it’s always an interesting transition from the perception that’s created during the process of recruiting to the realities of becoming a player.”
Garrido is starting his 15th season at Texas. He arrived in 1996 as just the 13th coach in UT’s 115-year baseball history and only the fifth since 1911.
He replaced Gustafson, who won more than 1,400 games and two national championships in a Texas career that spanned 29 years between 1968 and 1996.
“The program has been strong and when I arrived on campus they were going through a transition and there was some confusion because of what was going on,” Garrido said. “We had the problem of a new coach from a different area … and one of the greatest coaches of all time – a bonafide Texas hero – being replaced with a California guy.”
Garrido is a graduate of Fresno State and had previously coached at San Francisco State, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Cal State-Fullerton (two tenures) and Illinois before coming to Austin.
After a trying first couple of years, Garrido said he and his staff at Texas finally got the program to the point where it could contend again on the national level in 2000, their fourth season. The Longhorns won a Super Regional Championship that year and returned to the College World Series for the first time since 1993.
“From that point forward, we’ve been pretty consistent with it,” Garrido said. “That was due to a transition, time, familiarity, trust and respect and confidence that was established during the difficult years.”
In 2002, Garrido led the Longhorns to a 57-15 record and the program’s first national title since 1983. Texas won another College World Series Championship under Garrido in 2005.
The Longhorns finished 50-13 last season and won the Big 12 Conference championship with a 24-3 mark. But they lost to TCU in the Super Regional and came up short of reaching the CWS.
The College World Series is the only thing that’s relevant to the Longhorns. They treat Omaha like a sister city.
“Last year we won a lot of games and only lost (three) in the (Big 12) conference and won 21 in a row at one point, and it was a disappointing season for many because we didn’t go to the College World Series,” Garrido said. “That is really the watermark for this program. Being a part of that is very exciting, as you might imagine.”
Baseball is just one element in the championship tradition that has been cultivated at the University of Texas. National championships are produced by many of the school’s athletic programs, but baseball is certainly near and dear to everyone in the community.
“It’s the deep-rooted passion for college baseball that was established by (former coach) Billy Disch,” Garrido said. “There’s always been a strong connection between Texas and baseball. It’s part of the culture and it has been for a long, long time. And Billy Disch put this thing together and saved baseball at the University of Texas.”
Disch coached the Longhorns from 1911 through 1939, and Garrido was quick to offer some historical perspective. When Disch was coaching in Austin, the New York Yankees had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the New York Giants were managed by John McGraw and the Chicago White Sox had a talented outfielder known as Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Bibb Falk took over for Disch and won back-to-back national championships in 1949-50. WFCU Disch-Falk Field where the Longhorns play their home games is named in honor of the two legendary coaches.
Gustafson took over for Falk in 1968 and won a then national record 1,426 games with National Championships in 1975 and 1983.
Garrido, meanwhile, was making his own noise at Fullerton.
He led the Titans to National Championships in 1979, 1984 and 1995 and cemented his reputation as one of the top coaches in the country. He’ll enter the 2011 season with 1,768 victories in 43 years, making him the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I history.
Garrido wins games and championships by bringing in the best talent and best students available, and he has found UT and the city of Austin to be a pretty easy sell. When he first speaks to a potential recruit, he builds from the foundation.
“I ask them to start with the most important part. The quality of the education at the University of Texas is second to none,” Garrido said. “Therein lies the deepest meaning and the most life-changing part of the experience for the athlete.”
The Longhorns play their home game at UFCU Disch-Falk Stadium which will begin its 37th season in 2011. The facility underwent a $27 million renovation in 2008 and FieldTurf was installed. It has a seating capacity of 6,500 (including `19 suites) and sellouts are not uncommon.
“Our facilities are second to none,” Garrido said. “Whatever we need to get our job done, the university provides that. They give us the equipment, they give us the facilities, they give us the support. … They do it right. They just do it right.”
The facilities are certainly an important element in bringing top-notch talent to campus. Garrido has nine freshmen on his 2010 fall roster, including five – left-hander Kirby Bellow, right-hander Clayton Crum, infielder Ryan Ford and outfielders Dex Kjerstad and Mark Payton – who were selected in the 2010 Major League Draft.
All five were active participants in Perfect Game tournaments and showcases while in high school.
The Longhorns return two top starting pitchers in right-handers Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green. Jungman, a junior, was 8-3 with a 2.03 ERA last season, and Perfect Game's Allan Simpson projects the former Aflac All-American as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 Major League Draft.
Green was selected in the fourth-round by Detroit Tigers but decided to return for his senior season after going 11-2 with a 2.74 ERA last season.
Garrido is already collecting a stellar 2011 recruiting class. As of Nov. 11, he had signatures from right-hander Dylan Bundy (PG’s No. 5-ranked national prospect), outfielder Josh Bell (No. 9), catcher Blake Swihart (No. 12), infielder Matt Dean (No. 46), right-hander John Curtiss (No. 60), left-hander Dillon Peters (No. 71) and three others not ranked in PG’s top 100.
After 43 years on the job, Garrido has watched the recruiting process change drastically and he and his staff have been quick to keep up. That means taking advantage of what organizations like Perfect Game can offer with its tournaments and showcase events.
“The first thing that has taken place is the speed of information,” Garrido said. “Also, along with the speed of information, you have people with greater administrative skills actively involved because there are a lot more resources being put into the development of baseball players and the recognition of baseball players, and the showcasing of baseball players.”
The success at UT is inherent and will continue as long as men such as Billy Disch, Bibb Falk, Cliff Gustafson and Augie Garrido are in charge. Their lives revolved or still revolve around baseball at the University of Texas.
“It’s a way of life for me, it’s not a job,” Garrido said. “I think most baseball coaches are like that. I think most baseball coaches throughout the country stay with the game because they love the game. Most baseball coaches are in the game because they feel a sense of self-worth because of the opportunities we have to influence in a positive way the young people we come in contact with.”
What follows is a list of some of the current Longhorns who attended Perfect Game showcases or tournaments during their high school years. Click on the name to look at the player’s Perfect Game profile:
Kirby Bellow – PG WWBA/BCS Tournaments
Clayton Crum – PG WWBA/PG National Showcase
Austin Dicharry – PG WWBA
Jacob Felts – PG WWBA/National Showcase/BCS Tournaments
Ryan Ford – PG WWBA
Cole Green – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA
Taylor Jungman – Aflac All-American
Lucas Kephart – PG National Showcase
Dexter Kjerstad – PG WWBA
Brandon Loy – PG WWBA/PG National Showcase
Tim Maitland – PG World Showcase/PG WWBA
Patrick Marsh – PG WWBA
Hoby Milner – PG WWBA
Kiefer Nuncio – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA
Mark Payton – PG WWBA
Tant Shepherd – PG National Showcase/PG World Showcase
Alex Silver – PG WWBA
Sam Stafford – PG WWBA
Stayton Thomas – PG WWBA
Nathan Thornhill – PG WWBA
Josh Urban – PG WWBA
Cohl Walla – PG WWBA
Jonathan Walsh – Aflac/PG National Showcase/PG WWBA
Erich Weiss – PG WWBA
Hunter Wilcox – PG WWBA
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