In seven seasons, Elgorriaga built a 122-43-12 record. Such success may be unusual for a Division I professor-coach, but it's not unprecedented. There used to be more cross-fertilization between the fields of learning and athletics. Knute Rockne taught chemistry at Notre Dame under Father Julius Nieuwland, the man who discovered the formula for making sythetic rubber. John Wooden could not only diagram a play, he could also parse a sentence; long before he became the Wizard of Westwood, Wooden taught English at Indiana State, where he also coached basketball and baseball. Clair Bee, who guided Long Island University to NIT championships in 1939 and '41, when that was the title in college basketball, was the head of LIU's business and accounting departments. He also had five degrees, was a best-selling author of juvenile fiction and served as the assistant to two university presidents. Phog Allen, the distinguished Kansas basketball coach, had a medical degree, as did James Naismith, the man who invented the game and coached Allen at Kansas. Glenn (Pop) Warner had a law degree and, like Illinois' Bob Zuppke, was an accomplished painter.
Today, combining teaching and coaching is a more difficult proposition, and those who do it are notable for their scarcity—and their energy. Peter Fox Smith, the women's cross-country and track coach at Dartmouth, has a doctorate in philosophy and music from Harvard and teaches an undergraduate course, "Magic, Marriage, Myth, Mistresses and Murder," which for all that alliterative intrigue, is an introduction to German opera. He also has his own opera program on Vermont Public Radio. Paul Westhead, the man who guided the Lakers to the 1980 NBA championship, now coaches the high-scoring five at Loyola Marymount, where he also teaches a writing course. Wayne Stalick, a chemistry professor at George Mason for the last 16 years, has taken the Patriots' men's volleyball team to the NCAA Final Four three times.
"I personally believe that every coach—this would be an El Dorado situation—should teach, and should teach solid subjects," Elgorriaga says. "What has happened is that the time element of coaching has fostered the bigness in coaching. This whole thing starts when there's a guy who's coaching a football team or a soccer team, and he's a full-time teacher. And he's had pretty good success in coaching. And he thinks, 'If I only taught three fewer units, I would have more time to coach.' Or, 'If I only taught half-time, son of a gun. I could do more recruiting. I could put more time into practice.' All of a sudden, he thinks, 'If I could coach full-time, look at all the time I would have.' It's the time element that has fostered the game as a thing independent from the university. If you said that coaches have to teach half of the time, then this would shrink first the time spent on sport and the staff devoted to it, and, maybe, the proportions would be better."
"What we need is to have more of a blend, to show that academic values and athletic values are part of the same institution, the same warp and woof," Haak says. "I think it's good to have a person like José involved in coaching, treating sports as an integral part of the campus and campus life."
Yet, from the beginning, there have been Fresno State boosters greasing the guillotine for Elgorriaga, even though none of his teams has won fewer than 13 games. Some fans have questioned the idea of a part-time head coach; some have been troubled by Elgorriaga's accented English; some are just perturbed by having a professor serving as a coach. The situation became particularly nasty in 1983, when a self-appointed committee of three went to Jack Lengyel, then the Fresno State athletic director, and suggested that Jim Standen, a former first-division player in England who ran the soccer department of a local sports store, be given Elgorriaga's job.
"At the beginning of my coaching career, there were hints that because I was a professor, I didn't know anything about coaching," Elgorriaga said one morning as he sipped coffee in the student union after his humanities class. "There were some people who wanted to bring somebody else here. They said that because I wasn't a full-time coach, I couldn't do a good job, that the program couldn't go anywhere, that I couldn't recruit well. They thought that maybe I didn't have the personality or whatever's needed to meet the right people and convince them to promote soccer."
"Frankly, there is a small group that always thinks every coach ought to be replaced," says Haak, who adds that Elgorriaga is in no danger of dismissal. "He's really what we would like to see more often, a true faculty-member coach. And we would go the last mile to preserve that as an option for him. I think it's something good, something special."
Still, Haak says, "if José were to retire as coach, and someday he'll choose to do that, I would be surprised if he were replaced with another José. I have a feeling that at this point the program is too far along, and we would probably go out and look for a full-time soccer coach."
Is there really a strong tie between teaching and coaching? "First, both teaching and coaching have to do with human beings," Elgorriaga says. "In part, the love for other people is one of my strongest suits. Fifty to 75 percent of coaching is based on human relationships. In the classroom, it's 75 percent to maybe all of it.
"In class, you are working on certain basic questions, to prepare the kids so on the day of the exam they can perform. You do the same thing in soccer. What you are doing during the week is preparing the kids so they can play on Saturday. The difference is that on the soccer field there's a very open and constant evaluation of yourself. In class, maybe you come to evaluate once a semester."