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After a decade of Division I coaching, Cal State Fullerton Head Coach George Horton continues to define Titan Baseball just as his predecessors Augie Garrido and Larry Cochell did before him. His brilliant mind for the game and focus on the development of young student-athletes continues to establish Cal State Fullerton as one of the most elite collegiate baseball programs in the country and one that consistently produces a crop of professional talent each year.
Horton, 53, is in his 11th year as Titan head coach and is amidst a string of accomplishments that have undoubtedly been a direct reflection of his coaching style. His team's 18-3 league record, not only gave the Titans their third straight conference crown in 2006, but earned Horton his third straight Big West Conference Coach of the Year honor and fifth overall. He has now coached a streak of four consecutive conference Players of the Year in Justin Turner (2006), Sergio Pedroza (2005), Kurt Suzuki (2004), and Shane Costa (2003); three-consecutive Conference Pitchers of the Year in Wes Roemer (2006), Ricky Romero (2005), and Jason Windsor (2004); and has had two players in the last three years (Roemer in 2006 and Suzuki in 2004) earn National Player of the Year recognition.
No team in college baseball had a better pitching staff than the Titans in 2006. Along with Volunteer Assistant Coach Ted Silva, Horton guided the Titan hurlers to the nation's best ERA (2.73) and produced three pitchers with 12-or-more victories including the country's leader in wins in Lauren Gagnier.
The Titan arms carried the Titans to a 50-15 overall record and the school's 14th trip to Omaha, the first to the College World Series since winning the national title in 2004. But it was North Carolina that played the villain, upending Horton's nationally-seeded Titans with 7-5 (in 13 innings) and 7-6 victories at Rosenblatt Stadium. The losses sandwiched a pair of Titan victories over Georgia Tech and Clemson, but knocked Fullerton from the tournament empty-handed.
Fullerton did however, earn its eighth 50-win season, its 22nd conference championship, another Regional and Super Regional championship, and, for the second year in a row, had at least 10 Titans sign professional contracts. Horton also picked up his 450th career win on June 10 in the Fullerton Super Regional championship game against No. 15 Missouri, propelling the Titans to Omaha for the fifth time under his watch.
In 2005, Horton and team narrowly missed that fifth trip to Omaha as Arizona State defeated the Titans, 9-8, in the third and final game of the Fullerton Super Regional.
Though his team's ultimate goal was blocked by the Sun Devils, Horton did lead the talented group of young men to the school's 22nd conference championship in 2005, going 46-18 overall and 16-5 in Big West Conference play. He also managed the team to a pair of championships both at the KIA Bash (the team's third in six years) and at the Fullerton Regional.
In 2005, Horton also molded the largest Major League draft class in Cal State Fullerton history, as 14 players were selected in the first-year amateur draft. The 2005 team beat the 1984 squad by one selection and included the team's tenth No. 1 draft pick in Ricky Romero.
But it was in 2004 that the two-time National Coach of the Year (2003 Baseball America and 2004 Collegiate Baseball and ACBA) was able to add the most impressive credential to his resume... a national title. In his eighth year of leadership of the Fullerton baseball program, Horton took the Titans to their fourth NCAA Championship by defeating the Texas Longhorns and his mentor, former Titan Head Coach Augie Garrido, 3-2, at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Even Horton himself could not have even imagine the comeback the Titans would produce that season as the team started out a mediocre 15-16 through the first 31 games, falling out of the Top 25 polls completely for 6 straight weeks (3/8-4/12). In his attempt to right the ship, Horton enlisted Sports Psychologist Dr. Ken Ravizza to clear the heads of the slumping Titans. And cleared they were as, in storybook fashion, the Titans went on to finish an all-time best 19-2 in the Big West and win 27 of their next 32 games to reach the Series for the 13th time in their history.
Since taking over for Garrido on Sept. 4, 1996, after six years as Garrido's associate head coach, Horton has led the Titans to a 452-187-1 overall record, keeping them constantly in the national Top 25 polls. His teams have briefly ascended to the top spot in part(s) of 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. His .707 winning percentage is fifth-best among active Division I coaches (minimum five years) behind Gene Stephenson (.752, Wichita State), Mike Martin (.744, Florida State), Mike Fox (.744, North Carolina) and Wayne Graham (.717, Rice). Of the 29 teams the Titans have faced five or more times - many of which are nationally prominent - only two (Stanford and Wichita State) have managed winning records against Fullerton with Horton at the helm.
The five-time Big West Conference Coach of the Year has been at his best in series play. Heading into 2007, Fullerton has won 117 of its 144 regular three-gameseries under Horton's tenure (.813 series winning percentage), boasting an even greater percentage in league play, winning 70 of 82 (.854) Big West Conference series. Fullerton has been swept just six times since 1997 while recording 60 series sweeps against its opponents. Perhaps an even bigger credit to Coach Horton has been his success on the road: the Titans have won 37 of Horton's 44 conference series away from Goodwin Field (.841).
Horton, who is one of nine men to have appeared in Omaha as a player (1975) and a Head Coach, has seen 75 Titans selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft during his tenure, including 11 in 2003 and a record-setting 14 in 2005. Four of the last six draft classes have contained at least nine players and have seen 11 players taken in the top five rounds.
Southpaw Ricky Romero (Toronto) became the third Titans first-round pick taken under Horton's reign, joining Chad Cordero (Montreal) and Adam Johnson (Minnesota) on the list of Fullerton players taken in the beginning round of the MLB draft. Other Fullerton standouts taken in the draft include Aaron Rowand, who was a "sandwich" pick going between the first and second rounds in 1998; Shane Costa, a second-rounder in 2003; and battery mates Kurt Suzuki and Jason Windsor, who were taken in the second and third rounds, respectively, on the first day of the 2004 draft.
Horton scripted a brilliant season in 2003, guiding the Titans to one of their best starts in program history (15-1) and leading them to a program-best record of 31-3 at Goodwin Field. After sweeping through the Regional at Goodwin Field, the Titans beat Arizona State - the top offensive team in the country - in a Super Regional to advance to Omaha for the 12th time in their history. Fullerton quickly shot out to a 2-0 record in Omaha before Stanford knocked off the Titans twice en route to the championship series. Nonetheless, the Titans finished as the consensus No. 3 team in the nation for the second time in three years. For the Titans' efforts, Horton was named the National Coach of the Year by Baseball America, the highest reputed baseball publication. He was honored in December at the 2003 Baseball Winter Meetings in New Orleans.
Horton's Titans also carried the Fullerton flag to Omaha in 2001, when they secured a berth at home for the first time and carried the national No. 1 seed to Rosenblatt Stadium. After holding off local favorite Nebraska in the opener, the Titans lost a pair to Stanford with a win over Tulane sandwiched in between. The Titans finished No. 3 in all three national polls. Under Horton's eye, the 2001 squad posted several memorable moments during the regular season as well. They won 24 of 25 over one stretch and became the first team ever to sweep a three-game series against Miami ( the eventual national champions) at Mark Light Stadium.
The 2000 Titans, the unanimous preseason pick to win the conference and the consensus No. 2 team in the country, had a two-game lead on Nevada with three games to go in the Big West race. But the Wolf Pack swept Pacific in the final series and Fullerton lost two of three to Long Beach State, so the Titans had to settle for a co-championship. However, the Titans did host a Regional for the first time, which was won by USC.
In 1999, the Titans went 25-5 to win the BWC by four games. They swept three games at the Notre Dame Regional and then overcame an assortment of disadvantages to triumph in three games in the Super Regional at Ohio State to qualify for the school's tenth College World Series, where they went 1-2.
In 1998, the Titans used a remarkably balanced squad to start strong and then dominate the Big West Conference regular season with a 25-5 record. But they stumbled at home in the Big West Tournament and then ran into a powerful buzz saw in Baton Rouge in the NCAA Regionals, placing second at 3-2 with a pair of losses to the host LSU Tigers.
In Horton's debut season in 1997, the Titans struggled to a 23-19-1 start, but then rattled off 15 victories in their final 18 regular season games. They lost the opener of the Big West Conference post-season tournament at home to Pacific ace Dan Reichert, but then came back to win four games in a row at Blair Field. They swept a doubleheader on the final day against host Long Beach State to capture the automatic NCAA tournament bid. At Stanford, the Titans went 1-2 to place third, losing to Santa Clara and Fresno State.
Horton fulfilled a lifelong dream of being a Division I Head Coach when he was promoted to replace Garrido, who left to take over the program at the University of Texas. A 1978 CSF graduate, Horton had returned to the campus in 1991 when Garrido came back after a three-year stint at Illinois. In the next six years the Titans posted a 264-99 record and made three trips to the CWS, winning the 1995 crown with a phenomenal 57-9 season. Horton had input on virtually every aspect of the Fullerton program with his primary concern being the development of the pitching staff. His organizational skills, patience as a teacher and his attention to detail provided the backbone of the Titan coaching staff.
During the years Horton was responsible for the pitching staff, nine pitchers received All-America honors and James Popoff (1992), Matt Wagner (1994) and Ted Silva (1995) won Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year honors. Dan Naulty became the first Titan pitcher under Horton's guidance to reach the major leagues when he made the 1996 opening-day roster for the Minnesota Twins. He later earned a World Series ring with the 1999 New York Yankees. Another Horton product, Brent Billingsley, made two appearances for the Florida Marlins early in the 1999 season.
20 former Titans, both pitchers and position players, have ascended to the Major Leagues during Horton's 16-year tenure with the Titans, 13 of whom played in "the show" in 2006. Chad Cordero (2005 MLB saves Leader and All-Star with the Nationals), Shane Costa (Royals), Brandon Duckworth (Royals), Reed Johnson (Blue Jays), Mark Kotsay (A's), Mike Lamb (Astros), Phil Nevin (Rangers, Cubs and Twins), Aaron Rowand (Phillies), Kirk Saarloos (A's), and Matt Wise (Brewers) each played for at least their second season in 2006 while Mike Rouse (A's), Jason Windsor (A's) and Wes Littleton (Rangers) all made their major league debut.
Nevin and Kotsay were both Golden Spikes Award winners, national players of the year, No. 1 draft picks, College World Series MVPs and US Olympians in their time at Fullerton. Brian Loyd and Jason Moler - also tutored in part by Horton - were Olympians while Kotsay was chosen as the college player of the decade (1990's) by Baseball America. Sixteen of the Titans' 17 US National Team members have also been pupils of Horton's, with Nevin (1991) being the first, and Wes Roemer (2006) becoming the latest to don the red, white and blue.
Horton began his head coaching career at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., where he guided the Falcons to three junior college state championships in six years. He compiled a 226-53 record and won the California titles in 1985, 1987 and 1989. Each of those years he was selected National Junior College Coach of the Year. His best season was 1987 when the Falcons went 46-5. He had a South Coast Conference record of 102-28 (.785) and was a four-time South Coast Conference Coach of the Year (1985, 1987, 1989 and 1990).
He had many players graduate to the major leagues including Brian Hunter, who played for the Atlanta Braves in the 1991 World Series. Other names include Mike Benjamin, Craig Worthington, Ever Magallanes, Al Osuna, Joel Adamson, Dan Patterson, Luis Medina, Jeff Hearron, Naulty and Olympian and major leaguer Bret Barberie.
Horton was a player on the Cerritos College teams in 1972 and 1973. As the Falcons' team captain in 1973, he won the Dallas Moon Award and was a member of the state championship team. Horton played two seasons for Garrido at Cal State Fullerton in 1975 and 1976 and won All-PCAA honors as both a junior and a senior. He was on the first Fullerton team to go to the College World Series in 1975. He batted .308 as a junior and .290 as a senior while playing first base. He graduated in 1978 and went on to earn a master's degree in 1980 at Cal Lutheran.
Horton's coaching career began as an assistant at Cerritos in 1976-77 and he went to Los Angeles Valley College the following three seasons where he coached with former Long Beach State Coach Dave Snow. In 1980, he moved back to Cerritos as an assistant to Gordie Douglas before taking the head job in 1985. In addition, he coached during the summer for the Fairbanks Goldpanners (1981 and 1983) in Alaska and the Hutchinson Broncs (1982) in Kansas. A few famous names played for him on those summer teams such as Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Joe Magrane, Dan Plesac, Phil Stevenson, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.
In 1994, Horton was inducted into the California Community College Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Downey High School Hall of Fame in May of 2003. Horton was honored in 2005 with the Orange County Manager of the Year Award given by the Orange Coast Chapter of the Society for Advancement of Management.
In October, 2006, Horton was honored to take part in a documentary called Legendary Coaches that will be released as a special feature on the forthcoming We Are Marshall DVD. Horton is one focus of a six-segment feature with other legends Lute Olson (Arizona, men's basketball head coach), Pat Summit (Tennessee, women's basketball head coach), John Wooden (former UCLA basketball head coach), Bobby Bowden (Florida State, football head coach) as well as 1971 Marshall football Head Coach Jack Lengyel.
Horton was born on Oct. 5, 1953. The Yorba Linda resident and his wife, Francie, have four daughters: Michele (27), Heather (23), Loyal (19) and Rebecca (16), and two granddaughters: Angelica (7) and Alyssa (5).