Before Garner could even mention Melvin's name, he became a candidate himself.
"All of sudden on the caller ID it showed Phil Garner was calling, and I picked up and said, 'Are you a candidate?'" Smith said. "I was being facetious. 'Well,' he said, 'I wouldn't mind it, but it's up to you guys.'"
And that's how Garner, one of most popular managers in team history and the only one to lead the Astros to the World Series, found himself back in the mix to return to the team that dismissed him with a month remaining in the 2007 season.
Garner was one of 10 potential managerial candidates unveiled by the Astros on Monday, a list that included his friend Melvin. Garner will interview for the job on Saturday with Smith, general manager Ed Wade, assistant general managers Ricky Bennett, David Gottfried and Bobby Heck and special assistant to the general manager Enos Cabell.
Garner, who has not tried to get another managerial job since he was let go by the Astros, has lived in the Houston area for more than 20 years.
"I'm not opposed to interviewing," Garner said. "Your first thought is, 'They know me. Why interview?' The truth is Ed Wade and I have known each other for years, but I've never had a formal, sit-down conversation about my philosophies or his philosophies.
"The one thing I think is important if this goes anywhere is I would want to be comfortable with Ed and I would want Ed to be comfortable with me. The question is what can you learn in an interview? And Ed interviewing me is a good thing."
Garner, 60, took over a struggling star-studded Astros team at the All-Star break in 2004 and led a second-half turnaround that resulted in a trip to the National League Championship Series. Led by Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio, the Astros won their only NL pennant in '05 under "Scrap Iron" before being swept by the White Sox in the World Series.
Under Garner, the Astros were eliminated in the final weekend of the 2006 season. He was dismissed with 31 games remaining in '07 after going 58-73. He had an overall record of 277-248 with the Astros. Garner's career record is 985-1,054 in 15 seasons with the Brewers, Tigers and Astros.
"I didn't have ill feelings when I was fired," Garner said. "I don't think they felt ill towards me. I don't feel bad about being back in the mix, and I don't feel bad if I don't make it. It's kind of a good thing. I'd like to do it, obviously, and that's why I'm putting my name in the hat. It could be an interesting time for Houston baseball."
Smith said Garner still has a good reputation as far as the Astros are concerned.
"When Drayton and Ed and I met on Thursday to talk about candidates, I brought up Gar and we kicked it around and decided that I'd call him back Friday to determine if he was seriously interested," Smith said. "I pointed out that it would be applauded by a lot of people because Phil led the team in '04 and '05, when we did well, and also a lot of people think highly of him from his playing and managerial days here.
"By the same token, some could take the point and argue we made a mistake when we let him go during the 2007 season. I don't think that's the way we look at it. Times are different. I thought he did a real fine job for us, and obviously [he] has a great background with the Astros and did well for us. It's a new day and a different situation and different circumstances."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.