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Cliff Gustafson, the University of Texas baseball coach, who wins more frequently than any other college coach in the sport, is a simple man. He chews and spits, eats a peanut butter and honey sandwich every day, drives a 1972 Ford pickup and, when he really wants to kick up his heels, plays dominoes.
He's a man who hates travel, which is why 38 of Texas' 48 regular-season games were at home this spring and why he says he would manage in the big leagues only if they put a team in Austin. Even then he'd just work the home games. He hates change, which is why he got so mad the other day when somebody threw out the green coffee cup he'd been using for 19 years after the handle broke off. "Dumb," he fumed. He's forthright, which is why, for example, he says he thinks he's substantially overpaid at $38,000 a year.
And he's practical, which is why his 12-acre spread 10 miles southwest of Austin is also home for 20 guinea hens and roosters, whose only purpose in life is to eat rattlesnakes. And at mealtime, Gustafson drinks his iced tea from a huge Lipton Tea jar.
"Do you always fill it clear up?" a visitor asks.
"Certainly," he replies. "Who would ever want a half-filled jar? If I didn't want to drink a quart and a half of tea, don't you think I'd have myself a smaller jar?" Besides, he says a jar just fits his hand better than a glass. See how simple life can be for a practical man?
Indeed, this tells you a lot about the 51-year-old Gustafson, whose Longhorns ended their regular season last week with a 44-4 record. His winning percentage of .830 (713 wins, 146 losses) in 15 years at Texas ranks far ahead of that of the runner-up, Arizona State's Jim Brock (.775). (USC's Rod DeDeaux easily has the most wins, with 1,078 in 35 years of coaching, but his winning percentage is "only" .736.) Says Brock, " Gustafson is a good guy and he wins, and usually those two things are mutually exclusive."
Brock is correct, because Gustafson is down home, straight ahead and indescribably decent. When he wants to have fun, he goes home, picks up his guitar and sings country songs—including one he wrote himself—to his wife, Janie. In fact, all he ever wanted to do and, more important, all he ever wants to do, is coach the Texas baseball team.
Since Gustafson arrived in Austin, the Longhorns have won the Southwest Conference championship 13 times, have been to the College World Series in Omaha nine times and won the national title in 1975. Asked if he feels he should have won it more often than that, Gustafson drills his questioner with his no-nonsense eyes and says, "Did you ever think maybe we shouldn't have even won it once?" Texas' bid for another national championship begins with the conference tournament in College Station next week.
The Longhorns are one of the favorites to win the College World Series, of course, though not as big a favorite as Gustafson is around Austin. In describing him, nobody can come up with a single fault, except his son, Deron, who says, "Well, he's not real tall." (He's 5'9".) Gustafson's prize graduate, Dodger Pitcher Burt Hooton, says, "I've always wanted to be just like Gus, but so far the only similarity is we're both bald." So much for negatives. Howard Richards, a member of the Texas Board of Regents, says, "I wish we could clone Cliff and let him coach every sport." Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds adds, "If you took the best parts of all coaches, you'd get a Gus."
Longhorn Shortstop Spike Owen, a can't-miss major league prospect, was asked if Gustafson had ever done anything to help his game. "Naw, not really," says Owen. "All I can think of is that I used to take two or three little crow hops before I'd throw. He got that out of me in a week. My foot work deep in the hole was terrible, and he fixed that. He changed my throwing from over the top to three-quarters. He changed my grip on the bat entirely. Then he changed my stance. So he hasn't changed me much." Pitcher Calvin Schiraldi says, "All Coach Gus is, is a genius."