Former Cerritos baseball coach George Horton to be inducted into the ABCA Hall of Fame

George Horton led the Falcons to three state championships. (Courtesy Cerritos College Athletics)
George Horton led the Falcons to three state championships. (Courtesy Cerritos College Athletics)

George Horton Pictures

CERRITOS - George Horton spent time as a Cerritos College baseball player, assistant coach and head coach. He won a state championship as a player in 1973 and as their head coach in 1985, 1987 and 1989. He parlayed his Falcon career into 28 seasons as an NCAA Division I head coach and 42 combined years of coaching. It was announced today that Horton will be a member of the 2021 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) ABCA Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be held during the 77th annual ABCA Convention on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021 at the Gaylord National in Washington, D.C.

"I feel very blessed to be inducted into the ABCA Hall of Fame," said Horton. "I'm honored to be joining a group of my heroes. It makes it even more special to be in the same induction class as my ex-teammate (at Cerritos), friend and coach, Don Sneddon.
 
Horton was a player on the Cerritos 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. He then transferred to Cal State Fullerton and played two seasons for Augie Garrido. Horton earned All-PCAA honors as both a junior and a senior and was a member of the first Fullerton team to go to the College World Series in 1975.

In 1994, Horton was inducted into the California Community College Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He also was inducted into the Downey High School Hall of Fame in May of 2003 and 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 2013, Horton was inducted into the Cal State Fullerton Hall of Fame as part of the 1995 team before being inducted in 2017 as an individual. Horton also earned the USA Baseball Rod Dedeaux Coach of the Year Award after serving as the head coach for the 2016 Collegiate National Team and was a member of the U.S. coaching staff in 2012.

His path may have taken him from Cerritos to Cal State Fullerton to the University of Oregon, but his heart always carried a piece of the Falcons pinstripes with him. That piece was made up mostly of the influence his head coach at Cerritos - Wally Kincaid - had on him. When Horton was the Falcons head coach from 1985-90, he even brought the retired Hall of Fame coach back to assist his program.

L-R Dave Snow, Wally Kincaid and George Horton "Coach Kincaid has had more of an impact on my life that anyone else I've ever met." said Horton (pictured right with Dave Snow and Wally Kincaid). "I've always tried to be smart enough to try and take the best of those that I respected. Coach Kincaid, Augie Garrido, Dave Snow - men that I had a tremendous amount of respect for. I tried to take what I learned from them and implement that into my coaching style to help me be who I am. I've always had a motto to "catch the guys being good".

Horton, who went 226-53 in his time as the Falcons head coach, was a three-time recipient of the National Junior College Coach of the Year award and was named the South Coast Conference Coach of the Year four times. After the 1990 season, he accepted the assistant coach position at Cal State Fullerton and served in that role for six years before taking over the head coaching duties.

"I was elated to be named the head coach at Cal State Fullerton and felt I was more than ready for the challenge," said Horton, who almost took the head coaching job at Washington State University in 1994 and was offered an assistant coach position at LSU under legendary head coach Skip Bertmen.

"I'm glad I turned down the Washington State job in 1994 because we won the College World Series at Fullerton in 1995," continued Horton. When Garrido took the University of Texas job after the 1996 season, Horton assumed the lead role in 1997 and led the Titans to the 2004 College World Series championship. They reached the College World Series six times, including a pair of back-to-back berths (2003 and 2004, 2006 and 2007). Following his squad's title run in 2004, Horton received National Coach of the Year honors from the ABCA/Diamond Sports and Collegiate Baseball. He was also named National Coach of the Year by Baseball America in 2003 and was a five-time Big West Conference Coach of the Year.

Although he had the best college baseball program on the West Coast, Horton decided to take on the challenge of accepting the head coaching position at the University of Oregon, a program that had been without baseball since 1981. Horton took over the position in 2007 and spent the next 16 months starting up the program from scratch. Although they struggled in their first season (2009), Horton and the Ducks won 40 games in 2010 and qualified for the NCAA Regional. In his 11 seasons at Oregon, Horton led them to the postseason five times, including a Super Regional appearance in 2012. Horton went 490-212-1 at Cal State Fullerton and followed that with a 375-281-1 record with the Ducks.

"When Oregon had decided to start up their program again, they came by to see the field at Fullerton," remembers Horton. "They didn't think I would consider taking the job there, so they never talked to me about it at the time. After (former Cerritos player, assistant coach and head coach) Dave Serrano turned down the position, he told them to reach out to me. I spoke with Coach Snow, who had started three programs from scratch and he said that he had the most fun building a program. I was excited to create a structure at a new program. It was like a shotgun technique to build the program from the ground up, but I enjoyed the possibility of what we could accomplish. I'm proud to say that our very first recruit that year - Darrell Hunter - is now the Strength and Conditioning Coach at Oregon."

Throughout his coaching career at every level, Horton always carried the impact Coach Kincaid had on him during his playing days with the Falcons. He credits the way Kincaid worked with him and his players to make them both better players and men.

"I was smart enough to know that I wasn't Dave Snow, Augie Garrido, Coach Kincaid or (Cerritos assistant and head coach) Gordie Douglas, all of whom I respect greatly," stated Horton. "I played for legendary coaches and what I learned from them helped me as I transitioned from one coaching position to the next. I followed those great coaches at each place in which I took over and I always wanted to leave each program better than when I arrived."

After Horton finished the 2019 season with the Ducks, his contract wasn't renewed, which left him facing a situation he hadn't been in his entire career. But at that time, several big-name Division I head coaching positions were available and Horton was deciding if he should consider any of them. There were rumors abound that he might be named the head coach at USC or Cal State Long Beach, which were the biggest names available at that time.

"I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do," remembered Horton. "I strongly considered taking a year off, but then those positions became available. But I didn't want to jump into anything without carefully considering it. I had a conversation with Kevin Costner (a former Cal State Fullerton student and Titan baseball fan) and he bracketed my whole situation very well. I was concerned that a job of this quality my might come along again right away. But he and I talked about me taking a year off for myself and my family. It seemed the right thing to do."

But when the tragic events unfolded on January 26, 2020, where the life of Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli was lost, along with Kobe Bryant and seven others in a helicopter crash, baseball came calling. Horton, who was good friends with Altobelli and coached his son JJ Altobelli at Oregon, was asked to come in and serve as a consultant with the Pirates 2020 team. Unsure of how he would react to the community college level of baseball, Horton stated it was a unanimous decision between his family and the Orange Coast staff.

Prior to making his final decision to help out at Orange Coast meant that he had to stop helping his 11-year-old granddaughter's Firecracker's softball team, as well as 4-year-old grandson's T-ball team.

"Being so close to Coach Alto and his son JJ played a huge role in the decision," added Horton. "Tim Matz, who was a teammate of mine at Cerritos and a coach at Orange Coast, reached out to me first about coming in to help. I met Tim in the administration line at Cerritos in 1972 and we became fast friends and he's one of my best friends. Another of their assistant coaches, John Bryant, is also a good friend of mine. I was pulled in by people I trusted and love and it turned out to be great experience. As long as it was good for the kids, administration and the program, then I considered it a win-win-win situation. Coaching at the community college level is the purest form of being a baseball coach."

Would Horton consider being a head coach at any level again?

"It takes a lot of your time and attention to run a successful baseball program," said Horton. "But I realized I missed the adrenaline of competing when I was at Orange Coast. If the right circumstance presented itself, I would consider it. I love the time I'm getting to spend with my wife Francie, our four daughters and nine grandkids. My family and I are blessed that we don't have to work again, but if a job I love comes about, then we would have that conversation."

(Cerritos College Athletics)