If the preparation and approach to teaching and coaching are similar, the rewards are not. "In coaching you win and the newspaper says, FRESNO STATE WINS," Elgorriaga says. "In the classroom, you can give a terrific lecture and nobody will know, except the students."
Carmen Elgorriaga can't get over how much attention José receives for his coaching. "It freaks me out when he's introduced as the coach," says Carmen, who teaches Spanish, Hispanic literature and English at Fresno City College. "To me, he's a scholar, a teacher who has received the Distinguished Teacher Award.
"The biggest reward that you have as a teacher is that somebody might come after class, maybe five years later, and say, 'I took your class and it changed my life, it gave me another perspective,' " says Elgorriaga.
He's the best teacher I ever had," says Ignacio Santesteban, a professor of foreign languages at Fresno State who studied for his master's degree under Elgorriaga." Santesteban says it was Elgorriaga who convinced him to continue with his studies and to get his doctorate. "He is always with his students. In the cafeteria, in his home, everywhere. For him, there is no classroom. Wherever he is, that is the classroom.
"He's brilliant," says Mike Sotelo, who was a starting forward for Fresno State in 1985 and '86. "You go into his office and you see all kinds of books and literature, and he seems to know them all verbatim."
But Sotelo wouldn't recommend Elgorriaga's class to other players. "I would tell them not to take him, because he's tough," Sotelo says. That's true: Elgorriaga once flunked one of his star players. Sotelo adds a proviso to his advice: "If you want to learn, take him, but if you want an easy way out, seek other opportunities."
As he does every summer, Elgorriaga returned to Hendaye in July and spent two weeks visiting his sister, catching up on his sleep, seeing old friends. It was too cold to wade in the Bay of Biscay, but Elgorriaga returned to the old pala court and the soccer stadium where he played as a student.
He walked past the low stone wall where he and his friends met after school to discuss the latest war news. He visited his old school, which is still producing scholars. "Time has stood still for the school," he says. Not completely. The building is there, but its guiding spirit, Jean Carricaburu, has died.
"One day when I was a kid, we went home at 12 o'clock for the lunch break," Elgorriaga says. "We came back an hour later, and the Germans had taken the 12 most prominent men in town to a concentration camp. Carricaburu was one of them. I think eight of the 12 never came back. Carricaburu was one of those who came back after the liberation. They were like skeletons, like ghosts, emaciated. He resumed his teaching, but he was a very sick man, very tubercular.
"Sometimes we were sent to the principal's office," Elgorriaga recalls. "You misbehaved or didn't do your homework, and at the end of the day, the teachers used to send five, six, maybe 10 people to the principal. And everybody said, 'What the hell's he going to do now?' And he would say, 'O.K., guys, let's go. We're going to cultivate our garden.' Which we did, in a garden right next to the school. I'll never forget that. That stuck with me."