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Berkman has dreams of coaching at UT

Berkman has dreams of coaching at UT

HOUSTON -- Lance Berkman jokes that he majored in eligibility during his three years at Rice University, but the truth is, he was studying business -- or, as he called it, "Managerial Studies" -- with a minor in sport management when he was taken by the Astros in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft.

If Berkman's post-career path goes as planned, he'll have to go back to school to finish those three final semesters and obtain his degree, because he has his sights set on a job that generally requires a college education. If he had his druthers, he'd become a college baseball coach -- at the University of Texas.

Berkman's not looking to start now, of course. He's signed through 2010, and the club holds an option for '11. If he's still healthy and productive, he'd like to play a couple more years after that, but when it's time to hang it up, he'll be ready for the next step in his journey, which may take him to the college ranks.

Is he looking to unseat the current UT coach, Augie Garrido? Absolutely not. But he figures Garrido will be ready to retire at some point, and while he knows there are no guarantees, he'd like to at least receive consideration to take over the reins. At the very least, he'd like to someday talk to athletic director DeLoss Dodds about it.

"I'm being dead serious," Berkman said. "I asked my agent if he knew how to get a hold of DeLoss Dodds so I could at least let him know that I might be interested down the road. I know Garrido's going to coach four or five more years. I figured that might dovetail nicely with the end of my career."

Berkman grew up in the Austin area, in New Braunfels, Texas, and grew up not really rooting for either Major League team that resides in Texas. UT baseball was the toast of his town, and he still remembers the excitement he felt as a kid going to watch Longhorns games.

"I'm a Rice guy, but I do love the tradition, having grown up in Austin," Berkman said. "I think it's a great spot. One thing about the Texas baseball program that they don't have as much anymore -- that was the only team. When I was a kid growing up, we didn't care about the Astros or the Rangers. It was the UT baseball team. They'd pack them in."

Berkman's sharp sense of humor and gift for gab makes him a natural candidate for a broadcasting career when he's done playing. He hasn't ruled anything out, but he's drawn to coaching. He appreciates the innocence of the college game, the raw fundamentals and the absence of elements of the professional ranks -- agents, free agency, contract negotiations, labor disputes -- that sometimes detracts from the game between the chalk lines.

The college game isn't without its own politics and stress, but it can also be rewarding. Berkman, remembering his own appreciation for his college coach, Wayne Graham, is keenly aware of how special the coach-player relationship can be.

"Not to get too sentimental, but the thing that would interest me the most is not the baseball, but it would be the impact that you could have on those kids' lives," Berkman said. "The reality is the vast majority of those kids are not going to be Major League Baseball players, but they are going to be young men that need to find their way."

The other part of college coaching, of course, is recruiting. It can be tedious and stressful, not to mention time-consuming. Puma doesn't see this as a roadblock, however. In fact, he thinks he'd be pretty good at it.

"If there's anyone that loves to go to little Texas towns, [it's me]," Berkman said. "I think you can win a national championship every year with just the kids in Texas."

He learned a little bit about recruiting from Graham, who utilizes his relationship with pro scouts to scour for talent. In fact, Graham recruited Berkman without having actually watched him play. He simply went on the recommendation of someone he trusted -- a former Rangers scout named Randy Taylor -- and just like that, Berkman had an offer.

"[Randy] told coach Graham, 'There's a kid I think you need to sign,'" Berkman said. "And they gave me a scholarship."

Recruiting at UT, Berkman surmised, can't be that difficult.

"At the University of Texas, you don't have to take a backseat to anybody," he said. "They have the best facilities, and everyone wants to play there, but you've got to find those guys that are sort of under the radar. Everyone knows about those blue chip players. You've got to find the guys that can really play baseball, that are winners."

Don't mistake Berkman's future plans with a haste to retire from his current job. However, unlike many of his contemporaries who are afraid to acknowledge their own mortality, Berkman fully embraces the notion of life after the big leagues.

"I always thought I'd play this contract, and if I right the ship and they pick up my option, I'll have a year after that," he said. "At that point, I would evaluate -- am I still having fun, am I still productive, am I still enjoying it?

"At this point, my family's starting to come into play. My oldest daughter's 8 years old. My middle one's like, 'Why can't you get an office job? Just go to an office.'"

There may be one waiting for him, in Austin.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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