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Augie Garrido's enduring legacy

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The magic of Augie (3:22)

From being benched to becoming a titan on the field, former Texas baseball head coach Augie Garrido's journey was one of fear, joy and magic. (3:22)

OMAHA, Neb. -- In this first College World Series since the death of Augie Garrido, his presence continues to loom as large as ever.

Garrido won five national championships here, tied for the second most all time, and made 15 visits -- seven with Cal State Fullerton and eight with Texas. He was the first coach to win championships with two programs and the only to win multiple titles at more than one school.

Yes, college baseball lost an icon on March 15. Garrido, 79, died in Newport Beach, California, of complications following a stroke. Born 44 years to the day after Babe Ruth, Garrido, too, was a giant in the game.

Fullerton had no locker room at its home field in his early years. The school trucked in bleachers used in the Rose Parade, but Garrido's team in its initial year of Division I play won at five-time reigning national champion USC en route to Omaha in 1975.

The coach provided blazers, shirts and pants for his players during that first CWS visit 43 years ago; he wanted the Titans to look like a Division I team.

And oh, did they ever -- but not only for how they dressed.

From there, anything was possible. Garrido won 1,975 games, the most of any college coach at the time of his 2016 retirement from Texas after 20 seasons. His Longhorns from 2002 to 2005 reached the pinnacle of the sport.

A friend to actor Kevin Costner and former President George W. Bush, Garrido connected with people everywhere he traveled -- from humble beginnings in Vallejo, California, as the son of a shipyard worker, to college at Fresno State, summer-league coaching in Anchorage, Alaska, the bevy of resources in Austin, Texas, and five-star beach venues of Southern California.

Really, Garrido's legacy is about people. He was labeled as an expert motivator, a Zen master with the perfect mix of passion and tranquility. But in 50 years of coaching, he made his most indelible mark through the relationships forged.

Players, coaches, administrators, fans and media alike hung on his every word.

"The world treats winners a lot different than it treats losers," read his quote that hung in the Texas dugout during this College World Series.

Texas coach David Pierce, in his second season as Garrido's replacement, wore this year in Omaha the No. 16 jersey of the former coach, an image that serves as a guiding light for all at this venue that he so often dominated.

"Since his passing," Pierce said, "we basically have come to the conclusion that he's a huge piece of our program. He's a huge piece of this team."

Allow the words of those whose lives he touched to relay Garrido's impact on the sport he loved.

Oregon coach George Horton, who played on the 1975 Fullerton team, coached under Garrido with the Titans from 1990 to '96 and succeeded him when Garrido left for Texas: "He's definitely one of a kind. And not just because of the wins, but for the manner with which he went about his work, what he was able to do at Fullerton with basically nothing but a good location. He broke the Power 5 barrier, and he did it with an unparalleled passion and style."

Kody Clemens, Texas All-America infielder and the second of Roger Clemens' sons to play for UT: "He was an unbelievable man. He knew so much about the game. He didn't teach the game, he taught those little lessons about life. He taught everybody on our team how to be a man. That's what everybody's going to know him for. Every time I go out on the field, I just feel him. He's there. He's watching over us."

Steve DiTolla, Fullerton's associate AD who rehired Garrido at the school in 1990 after the coach spent three seasons at Illinois: "He set the stage for coaches to make a lot of money. Back in the day, coaches were coaches. Some of them still taught classes. There were a lot of them who had been coaching at a place for a long time and really didn't have a reason to leave. It was [former Fullerton AD] Neale Stoner who brought Augie out to Illinois. Neale was truly a visionary. He was right. Look at it now. There are a lot of people who are spending a lot of money to compete for that baseball championship."

LSU coach Paul Mainieri, whose team won two of three games against Garrido and Texas in the 2009 finals: "It was a great series, but Augie, he really took that loss hard. That team of his was so good and had really built up a head of steam at the end of the season. As a head coach, you know that those opportunities don't come along very often, even when you've had a career like he'd had... So that loss really stung. Well, five days later, I get my mail in Baton Rouge and what do I have? The most gracious, handwritten note of congratulations from Augie Garrido. I was so blown away. I was so touched. I called him and thanked him profusely. That note is framed and hangs in my office."

Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook, who played for Garrido on the 1984 title team and served as a longtime Titans assistant: "Every team was different. He recognized that and treated them like that. He always could identify what every team needed. It's that 'It' factor, and there's very few people who have had it."

Roger Clemens, seven-time Cy Young Award winner and ex-Texas star under Garrido's predecessor, Cliff Gustafson: "I knew Coach Garrido before I actually met him. I just knew him as a coach. [But] I didn't know the depths that he went as far as his teaching ability. And then when he had my boys [Kacy and Kody], I got to meet him one day here. I walked in on a fall [practice], and he brought me right over like any other alumni. Sat me behind the screen during a fall game, and we went right into talking baseball and different things."

Dennis Poppe, longtime top NCAA administrator of the CWS who retired in 2014 as vice president of championships and alliances: "He had such a charisma or Southern California swagger, but he was always approachable and enjoyed people. He certainly had an air of self confidence that translated to his players. And he always had something insightful or a little bit different to say. Sometimes, it would catch you off guard. It was like, 'What's he saying? What's he really trying to say?' He coached the game differently than most others did, and that allowed him to relate to his players. A lot of people called Augie not only a baseball coach but a life coach. I think that's one of the highest compliments you can get from those you've coached."

Horton: "Nobody could see the big picture or compare athletics to life like Augie could, in my opinion. He had that gift to make you feel invincible and powerful. He was a tremendous motivator. His passion was contagious. What brought Augie and Kevin [Costner] together was not just the sport of baseball. Kevin's a mentality guy. He doesn't just like baseball; he likes the mentality and teamwork and challenges of baseball -- and comparing it to life."

Poppe: "During my career, I didn't just do baseball. I worked with football and a number of sports. I had an opportunity to meet outstanding coaches -- from Lou Saban to Urban Meyer to Bill Marolt (who won seven NCAA ski titles as a coach at Colorado) to Dan Gable. All these coaches had a unique characteristic about them. They kind of marched to the beat of their own drum. "

Florida State coach Mike Martin, who broke Garrido's all-time wins record in April: "The last time I saw him was really the perfect setting. Last June, we were out to dinner in Omaha, at a steakhouse of course, and I ran into him. We sat down and talked for 30 minutes. We both knew that if I was fortunate enough to have a good season in 2018 that I would break his all-time wins record, but that's not what we talked about. Not directly. What we talked about wasn't the record. It was about all the guys we'd been able to coach over the years. I think we both agreed that the wins are great, but we'd both trade them in right now if you told us we couldn't keep the friendships and the gift of having some sort of impact on so many lives."

Horton: "When he came back to Fullerton from Illinois, he was in a little bit of turmoil in his life. He was going through a divorce. He didn't have a house. He didn't have a car. But he was living in Newport Beach at the Balboa Bay Club, which was about as high class as you could get. He was driving a Mercedes-Benz. He was eating at the nicest restaurants. We called it elegantly homeless. Augie really had a taste for the finer things in life, whether he could afford it or not. He was always going to stay at the nicest hotels. He had a charm about him that was magnetic. Whether it was a baseball environment or a social environment, you knew you were going to have a lot of fun with Augie."

Richard Linklater, filmmaker and friend to Garrido: "After they won the College World Series in '05 we were out at dinner or something and he just starts into this really emotional lecture on how it is impossible to repeat as champions. The psychology of kids and egos and catching that perfect chemistry with a roster that only happens every now and then. I was really taken aback by that. Here's a guy who had won, what, five national championships, and had just won two at Texas in a short period of time and yet, he's just almost panicked about what it is going to take to win another one. OK, not panicked, not really, but desperate. That's what makes him Augie, that desperation to be the best all the time and figure out what it takes to be the best."

Former South Carolina coach Ray Tanner: "I was intrigued by what made Augie so successful. I wanted to know the secret. Yeah, he had good players, but there's always another denominator to it. [Ex-Fullerton star Mark] Kotsay just talked to me about the way he ran his team, how he was a teacher, the confidence that he had in his players, the way he delivered things. Players believed in him. More than a baseball coach, he was a very dynamic person."

Part of Augie's secret? He did it his way, no matter what you thought.

DiTolla: "I think he ran up a billion dollars worth of parking tickets on this campus. And the campus was relentless about trying to collect from him. But he didn't care. He would just drive up and park wherever."

Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez, as a player, led Pepperdine to the 1992 national title. The Waves defeated Fullerton 3-2 in the championship game, denying Garrido the third title that he would win in 1995. Years later, Garrido re-introduced himself to Rodriguez at a coaching convention, reminding the younger coach of Fullerton's heartbreak at his expense.

"He gave me so much credit for it," Rodriguez said. "That's the kind of person he was."

There were many sides to Augie, though.

Vanderhook: "Just super intimidating -- for about three or four years, even the first couple of years that I worked for him. Now I do a lot of the things that Augie did, but it took years to figure that out. And even then, I didn't realize it until [DiTolla] told me that I had a lot of similarities to Augie when I talk to the team. I said, 'No way, man, no way. Nobody can talk like that.'"

DiTolla: "There are certain guys who, when they walk in the room, you know they're somebody. That was Augie. He was somebody very special. He was such a tremendous leader. There were times when he would just come out of the tunnel to talk to the team. Everybody would be chatting. And then ... silence. The team would be riveted. They couldn't wait to hear what he had to say. He was our guy. He was the leader. He was the one who everyone looked to."

Stanford coach David Esquer, who played for the Cardinal against Garrido, then coached as an assistant at Pepperdine and was hired 17 years ago in his first head-coaching job at Cal: "I found myself at 2001, going to play at Texas, and there was a moment of taking out that lineup card and thinking, 'I'm shaking hands with Augie Garrido.' That kind of hit me. I was struck by the level of respect he addressed me with. I didn't even know if I deserved the amount of respect as a rookie coach that he was giving to me."

Rodriguez: "My first year at Baylor [in 2016] was his last year. When we played at Texas in the regular season, he took me into his office. He showed me around and was telling me what I need to know, what I need to do. It was like he pretty much said, 'Here's everything that is going to make you successful in the Big 12.' It was a little bizarre. I was like, 'Is this really happening?' But just because of my interactions with him before, I knew how genuine he was. You could see as he was talking to me that it brought him great joy to be able to do that -- to be able to give of himself and his ideas."

Pierce, the Texas coach who arrived from Tulane to take over for Garrido after the 2016 season: "I don't know how he handled [the coaching transition] personally or behind closed doors, but I couldn't have asked for anything more. He was gracious in his approach with me. We met for lunches. We spent a lot of time together. He gave me insight about how it is to coach at the University of Texas. Because it's different; it's a monster."

Stories that featured Garrido's competitiveness and his personality emerged throughout his coaching career.

Tanner coached South Carolina to a spot in the CWS championship series in 2002. Waiting was Texas, which beat the Gamecocks 12-6 for Garrido's fourth title. "After the game, I said, 'Congratulations Augie, we were no match for you.' He said, 'Your day will come.' When he said that, I believed it. Some coaches just make comments and you go, 'OK, thank you a lot.' But when Augie said that, I never forgot it -- that your day will come."

South Carolina returned to Omaha in 2002, 2003 and 2004, then won championships in 2009 and 2010.

Vanderhook: "In 1994, we were at Oklahoma State in the regional. It was the championship game. We had a guy on third base and our dugout was going crazy. I'm coaching third and trying to get somebody's attention in the dugout. So I'm waving my arms and nobody sees me. Then finally, a little while later, Augie sees me, and he goes, 'What do you want?' By then, I was pissed, because it took so long. This is the winning run to go to Omaha. So I waved both hands, like 'forget it.' And he screams out at me, 'You can be replaced!' We ended up winning that game, thank God."

Garrido, as in 2009 against LSU and 1992 against Pepperdine, took hard the loss to Horton and Cal State Fullerton in the 2004 finals. After the two-game sweep, Garrido left the field without shaking hands with his former team.

Horton: "I didn't take it personal, because I knew Augie. In retrospect, the thing that bothered me the most was that he really created a David and Goliath mentality at Cal State Fullerton. We were David, and Texas and SC and Miami and Florida State, they were Goliath. He really created this monster that came back to haunt him. With all the frustration of not winning, recognizing that he had everything to do with us beating him, he would tell you today that he missed the mark on that. And Augie didn't miss the mark very often."

More often, Garrido directed others to hit the mark. Like in 1992, on the Friday before the championship game, when storms pushed Miami and Cal State Fullerton late into night.

Poppe: "We finally got the game in, but I was exasperated and worn out. I escaped into Fullerton's dugout to get out of the rain at one point. Most of the players had gone back into the clubhouse, but Augie was just sitting down at the end, legs crossed, relaxed. He looked over, gave me a big smile and said, 'Are you having any fun yet?' We talked for a while. He just let me know that when I said it was time to play, they'd be ready. In almost every situation I was with him, he had that kind of calm demeanor, enjoying life. And he taught me a lesson that it was best to just do my job and everything would be OK."

His words from that rain delay, more than a quarter-century ago, feel appropriate to serve as Garrido's enduring message to the players and coaches at this CWS -- and all others moving ahead, a little bit less colorful without him.

Senior writer Ryan McGee and staff writer Sam Khan Jr. contributed to this story.