Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Years later, Coach Gus still leans on the edge of his recliner for every Texas pitch

Posted June 14th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Cliff Gustafson can still remember details from many of his 17 College World Series trips and two titles, including LSU's Ben McDonald tipping his pitches.
  • Coach Gus called Texas coach David Pierce to tell him how proud he was of him getting the Horns to Omaha.
  • Augie Garrido and Gustafson both deserve to have their names memorialized at Disch-Falk Field.

The diet’s changed.

He no longer downs a big bowl of Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream at night any more. Quit that two or three years back, he guesses. He jokes now that the Texas creamery “probably had to shut down some” as a result of his cutbacks.

His peanut butter jelly sandwiches remain a daily staple, however, although he’s swapped grape jam for the ubiquitous honey he consumed every day at lunch for decades.

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And he has difficulty walking, too, which explains why he hasn’t been to UFCU Disch-Falk Field since February’s alumni game.

But Coach Gus still follows Texas baseball.

Passionately.

Daily.

And devoutly.

That hasn’t changed even though Cliff Gustafson, now 87, has been retired for more than two decades as the once winningest baseball coach in Division I history with 1,466 wins. The late Augie Garrido, who died at age 79 in March, topped Gus’ win total with 1,975 victories, and Florida State’s Mike Martin broke that mark even though the Seminoles coach has yet to capture a win on the final day of a season.

4/22/94 Staff Photo:Ralph Barrera; Coach Cliff Gustafson gives the Hook’Em sign as they play the “Eyes of Texas” after he won his record-setting 1,333rd victory at Disch-Falk field Friday night.

So how intense was Texas’ 5-2 win over Tennessee Tech on Monday to clinch the NCAA super regional?

“It was tense for me,” Gus said from his South Austin home that he shares with his wife, Ann.

He phoned Texas coach David Pierce after the game, and the two had a nice chat. “It’s good to have him still be part of the program,” Pierce said.

“I just told him how proud I was of him and the team and the great job they did hanging in there,” Gus said. “I told him how nervous I was, and he said, ‘You weren’t as nervous as I was.’ After they lost that first game, I didn’t think there was any way we’d beat Tennessee Tech even one game, let alone two. Holding them to one home run, that’s pretty miraculous, I tell you.”

Gus loves watching Kody Clemens batter pitchers and remembers the time Kody’s father, Roger, pitched the national championship game for Texas in 1983. To this day, he can recall thinking about pulling Clemens in the last three innings but left him in.

Texas coach Cliff Gustafson jokes with umpires and St. Mary’s coach Elmer Kosob before a game on Feb. 17, 1975. Ed Malcik / American-Statesman

Gus went out in the ninth to lift him, but “before I got to the mound, he said, ‘I ain’t coming out. I got ‘em.”

And he did. Gus sees the same unbending will in Kody that he saw in Roger.

“It’s unreal how he’s hit,” Gus said of Kody, the Texas second baseman and Golden Spikes Award finalist. “It really is amazing, especially since he only hit five home runs last year. I never would have guessed he would hit 24 this year. He’s pretty strong.”

He doesn’t see enough offense from Clemens’ teammates, however, and worries that will be the Longhorns’ Achilles heel at this year’s College World Series where Texas opens with powerful Arkansas on Sunday afternoon.

“They’re playing pretty good, but they still can’t hit,” Gus said. “Can they win it all? No, but I’m rooting for them. I’ve seen some of these other teams play on TV. It’s just like men playing against boys.”

He always was brutally candid. Gus has his pair of national championships from the 1975 and 1983 seasons with three runner-up finishes. Garrido won five titles, three at Cal State Fullerton and two at Texas after succeeding Gus in 1996. “Not a lot of people know I recommended him for the job,” Gus said.

They’re the two biggest giants of the game. Oh, Rod Dedeaux could claim 11 CWS titles with USC rosters spilling over with talent. But in these parts, there are no two bigger names than Gus and Garrido.

They have always been two of my absolute favorite coaches to ever cover. And Gustafson, the slow-walking, slower-talking native Texan who once told me his dream was to be a fast-rasping auctioneer at stock shows, was as different as he could be from Garrido, the glib, mischievous Californian who avoided the shipyards. But they changed college baseball forever.

Coach Cliff Gustafson thanks the crowd by tipping his hat after a birthday celebration before the start of Texas’ game with UCLA on Feb. 12, 1989. Mike Boroff/ American-Statesman

Both had that large an impact, which is why I’m still waiting for Texas to properly honor them with full statues befitting their legendary status at Disch-Falk Field at Gustafson-Garrido Park. Hey, it’s a mouthful, but can the school help it that it’s had four of the best coaches in the game?

Gus still remembers vivid details like the time he stole LSU’s Ben McDonald’s pitches by how he held the ball in his glove before his delivery and the time Texas beat Barry Larkin’s Michigan team. The Cincinnati Reds great almost became a Longhorn before signing with Michigan “on a full hockey scholarship.” Wink, wink.

Gus still watches every game from his recliner and mentally makes the same strategic moves he did as coach. He loved how effective starter Matteo Bocchi was and jokes that he would have left reliever Parker Joe Robinson in the game an inning longer than he did.

His mind’s as sharp as it was the first time he caught a glimpse of Rosenblatt Stadium as a rookie college coach at Texas, fresh off seven state championships at South San Antonio High. His time as Bibb Falk’s successor started inauspiciously with three straight Southwest Conference losses. “All by one run,” Gus accurately remembers.

But that 1968 Longhorns team won the league — one of his 22 SWC crowns — and reached Omaha, the first of a staggering 17 CWS appearances for his teams in 29 seasons. He can still remember telling NCAA officials he wouldn’t keep his team in the assigned dormitory and checked his players into a Holiday Inn. That team finished fifth, but he’d be back often.

His first title came in his eighth year on the job when a stacked lineup and pitching-rich club in 1975 swept through the CWS. Now Pierce tries to get his first as a head coach at Omaha.

“This time of the season,” Gus said, “that’s where you need to be.”

RELATED: 2018 CWS team capsules

College World Series

Saturday-June 27, Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.

Saturday: Oregon State vs. North Carolina, 2 p.m., ESPN; Mississippi State vs. Washington, 7, ESPN

Sunday: Texas vs. Arkansas, 1, ESPN, 104.9; Texas Tech vs. Florida, ESPN2, 6

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