Playground memories from Cliff Gustafson’s South San dynasty

Baseball coaching legend Cliff Gustafson died Monday at the age of 91, the University of Texas announced. Gustafson won seven state titles at South San High School before embarking on a 29-year career at UT. Coaching at his alma mater, he guided the Longhorns to 22 conference crowns, 17 College World Series and two national championships. — Photo special, courtesy of the University of Texas

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

A few years ago, with nothing better to do during the pandemic, I wrote quite a bit about baseball.

One of my favorite interviews during the summer of 2020 was with John Langerhans, who played for the South San High School Bobcats and the Texas Longhorns under Coach Cliff Gustafson.

I thought about the interview today after learning that Gustafson, 91, had died. The coach passed away early Monday morning.

Rummaging through old files a few minutes ago, I found it. Langerhans talked about how Gustafson, at South San, led his players to believe that they could win it all every year.

“We felt like, there wasn’t anybody that could beat us,” Langerhans said. “Our attitude was, if we didn’t make it to the state tournament … or at least the (way the) community looked at it, if we didn’t go to the state tournament, we had a losing season.

“It was just the attitude that Gus built. You don’t get beat. You win. You go all the way.

“And, of course, Gus made the difference. We were talented. But back in those days, there weren’t too many great baseball coaches around. In those days, a lot of these schools had football coaches coaching their baseball team. So, Gus basically out-coached everybody, to go along with the talent we had.”

The Bobcats won state under Gustafson in 1958, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1966 and 1967. Langerhans pitched and played first base for the ’67 team that went 39-0, one of the great achievements in prep sports in city history.

Langerhans played at South San from 1966 through 1968. He had grown up in Marble Falls and, after ninth grade, he moved with his family to the Alamo City when his father took the job as principal at South San.

He said the community embraced the game and the baseball program.

“During the summer, the kids just went up there and it was like playground ball. So the attitude of being a South San Bobcat (was) instilled in all the kids growing up. Then of course it culminated in the high school program.

“The whole desire, if you were eight or nine or ten, or a 12-year-old kid, you grew up around there wanting to be a South San Bobcat. That’s just the way it was. It was remarkable … just like playground ball.

“Kids would run over there, and they just chose up and played games.”

Gustafson, 91, died on Monday of heart failure.

Though the coach was best known for guiding the Longhorns to 22 SWC titles, to 17 College World Series and to national titles in 1975 and 1983, he learned how to build a winning program at South San.

He did it better than just about anyone at the time.

UT basketball teams set for move into new arena

The University of Texas men’s and women’s basketball teams are expected to move into a new 10,000-seat arena on the Austin campus in 2021.

The arena will be expandable to 15,000 seats for concerts and touring shows, according to a news release.

UT officials laid out the plans in a news conference Thursday. They said it would be built on parking lots south of Myers Stadium.

The arena is expected to carry a pricetag of $338 million and will be developed in partnership with the Oak View Group.

According to the news release, the arena will be home to men’s and women’s basketball games, graduations, concerts and other events.

A 35-year agreement between UT and ArenaCo — which includes OVG, Live Nation, C3 Presents and Matthew McConaughey — will be groundbreaking in college athletics and provide a public benefit for UT and the City of Austin for decades to come, according to the release.

The release said the venue will be constructed on land fully owned by UT without using any university or public money.

It will replace the 41-year-old Frank C. Erwin Center, which sits on land designated for future expansion of the Dell Medical School.

UT may be responsible for certain infrastructure improvements near the site to make it ready for construction, according to the release.