NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There won’t be another.
Augie Garrido wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t a man without sin. He lived. He loved. He enjoyed the ride.
And we enjoyed the ride.
College baseball’s Zen Master hung up his cleats Thursday morning. He left us at age 79, leaving a void in the coaching profession that will never be filled. We’re talking about real passion here. Vallejo’s favorite son never claimed to be perfect but no coach that ever lived put as much of his heart and soul into his profession.
“He was so much more than a coach,” athletic director Chris Del Conte said.
“He was my mentor,” said basketball coach Shaka Smart. “I will always appreciate him for taking me under his wing. I will miss our conversations.”
Augie lived baseball. It was a constant companion for the better part of 70 years. The game served as his muse, his mirror, and sometimes his cruel mistress. He saw himself through the game and lived his life through the sport he coached so well. Five championships and 1,975 wins are proof enough.
When I first met him in January of 2003, he was preparing the Texas Longhorns for their first national championship title defense in 20 years. As he watched from just outside the dugout at venerable Disch-Falk Field, I pulled up a chair and introduced myself.
“Cedric, this thing is much bigger than baseball,” he said after we shook hands.
“I know what you mean,” I said. “I know you like to use baseball as a vehicle to teach life lessons to your players. I agree that sports has the unique ability to develop a person athletically and as a citizen.”
“Cedric, we’re going to get along just fine.”
We did. Ours was a relationship borne out of the game he worshipped and the sport I covered. The Chicago Bulls had Phil Jackson in the 1990s. Texas had its own Zen Master in Augie, who is easily one of the most self-deprecating, embraceable coaches to come through here.
The man was a winner.
Three words described Garrido at the program’s peak: Omaha is mandatory.
He always allowed me to sit in the dugout surrounded by his team during practices. I was there when he ripped into them for a lack of effort and I was there when he told them they had made him proud after a loss. He often joked about his infamous video rant and even threw himself under the bus several times when he referenced a drunk driving arrest and suspension back in 2009.
He was a bundle of many things: humor, street smarts, and even a touch of Hollywood. One story that stands out came from that 2005 title campaign. Before they could get to Omaha, the Horns had go through hell and a raucous Ole Miss home crowd in a hotly contested super regionals. Garrido ruffled some local feathers before nary a pitch was thrown.
When informed reservations had been made for his team at Oxford’s Super 8 hotel, Garrido said no dice and moved the Texas contingent to Tupelo, which was one hour away, a fact not lost on some Texans who thought all that road time might not be good for the players’ legs in a series. They won the series in three. Turns out Garrido had already been thinking about changing hotels.
“He taught us all to think outside the box in preparation and in the heat of battle,” said former All-American outfielder Drew Stubbs. “Tupelo is a great example because we all wondered why we were doing that but he just wanted to remove all distractions from such a meaningful series that got hostile. He was always one step ahead and had such creative and brilliant outlooks to baseball, and more importantly, life.”
Before Game 1, I asked Augie why he switched hotels.
“I never stay at a hotel with a number in the title,” he said. I howled because his delivery was perfect. He would have been a great standup comedian.
They won at Omaha that year. One highlight was Chase Wheeless’ walk-off homer to eliminate Baylor. Wheeless had a bum shoulder and looked horrible in his previous at bats. The coaches wrestled with the idea of pinch hitting for him. Garrido made the call to let him swing.
“How tough was that decision?” I asked him after the game.
“The kid wanted to be a hero,” he said. “Who was I to deny him that opportunity?
Years later at his book signing post-retirement, I had one more question for him.
“That thing in Mississippi about never staying at a place with numbers in the hotel title…don’t you live at the Four Seasons now?”
This time it was his turn to laugh.
None of us are laughing today but the memories remain.
Safe travels, Zen Master.