The winningest coach in college baseball history eats the same thing for lunch virtually every day (a peanut butter and honey sandwich, corn chips, iced tea); gets out of bed several times every night to eat a bowl of cereal or work on statistics; jogs two out of every three days (always two miles, in 15 to 16 minutes—he takes a stopwatch to make sure); and, when on the road, almost never goes out, preferring instead to stay in his hotel room and play dominoes. Cliff Gustafson of the University of Texas is a creature of habit, and he has made a habit out of winning.
In Austin they call it Gusball, and last Friday, with a 10-1 Longhorn win over Grand Canyon University, Coach Gus earned his 1,333rd collegiate victory, passing former USC coach Rod Dedeaux on the alltime list. In 27 years at Texas, Gustafson has an .803 winning average; his teams won national titles in 1975 and '83. Some 35 of his players have made it to the majors, including Boston's Roger Clemens and Houston's Greg Swindell. "I'm proud of that, but I'm just as proud of coaching three orthopedic surgeons," says Gustafson.
The 63-year-old Gustafson is a farm boy from Kenedy, Texas, who loves baseball. He had been head coach at South San Antonio High for 13 years when Darrell Royal, then the athletic director at Texas, hired him as the Longhorns' coach in 1968. Gustafson took a pay cut, from $11,500 to $11,000. After last week's record-setting victory, Royal was asked if he ever dreamed Gustafson would be so successful. "Hell, no," Royal said, smiling. "If I'd known that, I'd have gone down there in my car to hire him instead of calling him on the phone."
Gustafson's teams are always well drilled, and no one is more prepared than Coach Gus. Late in a tight game during a College World Series regional in 1975, he sent a seldom-used reserve—a little guy who couldn't hit—to the on-deck circle in place of one of his best hitters. Gustafson had no intention of letting the bench warmer bat, but he anticipated a close play at the plate and figured the little guy could get there quickly to signal the Longhorn runner whether or not to slide. Unorthodox? He has been known to pinch-hit on 0-2 and 3-2 counts and to give his best hitters the take sign on 3-1.
In his 40 seasons of coaching, Gustafson has never been ejected from a game, reckoning, "I'm more valuable to my team on the bench." Over the years, the Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies have approached him about managing in their minor league systems, but the talks never went far, partly because Gustafson is a Texas alum who loves where he lives and loves what he does. Early every year when the Longhorns play an alumni game, some 20 current or former major leaguers—including Clemens—show up for Coach Gus. Among those on hand for Friday's record-breaker was former Texas quarterback James Street, the winning pitcher in Gustafson's first college victory. Recalling that 4-1 win over Oklahoma in 1968, Coach Gus said, "It seems like yesterday." And what about tomorrow? Gustafson plans to coach for another "six, seven years. But I can't see going beyond the age of 70." Sounds as if his record will be safe for a long time.