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Overall, though, Jumbo's athletes are quality people who do well. The track team's grades are always above the Villanova average, and Villanova is a strong school academically. The list of former runners who are now successful lawyers, doctors and businessmen is impressive. "That is something the mothers who send their kids to school think about," says Liquori, now the president of a large athletic-store chain.
In truth, Elliott has merely been molding men in his own image. His father, who read meters for a gas company, died when Jumbo was 3, leaving him to work his way up and out of Shantytown. "Nothing was given to me," he says. He still recalls the Depression days with dread. "Young people don't know what it was like," he says often. Even his track career started at the bottom. He ran his first quarter mile as a high school junior in 56 flat, and then was violently ill the rest of the day.
Elliott is conscious of money and material things, but primarily as markers, objects good to acquire and to have somewhere—like those damned trophies—but not to attach special meaning to. He'll show you his new white Continental Mark VI and his lovely three-fireplace, slate-roofed home and the blue Eldorado in the garage. But ask him how many rooms there are in the house and he says he has no idea.
Early in life Jumbo found his salvation—sales. "No matter what you do, life is selling," he says. "Selling yourself, selling a program, selling this, selling that." He brought the concept to track and it has paid off handsomely for him. Twice he was asked to coach at USC, a school with a lavish athletic budget, but he refused because he felt his salesmanship was better suited to Villanova. He has been there longer than any teacher, coach or dean. Three of his four children have graduated from Villanova. In 1977 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the school. He is Villanova track. Athletes perform for him.
Not that everything has always gone right for him. There were times in the turbulent late 1960s when his business approach did not go over well with some of the more activist athletes. But it seemed almost nobody over 30 was right then. There have been times when Jumbo hasn't completely understood some of his young men. One of those was Bragg, who set a world record in the pole vault and then went to Hollywood to try out for Tarzan. Bragg didn't get the part, and Elliott didn't understand his ambition, although he was well aware of it.
"When did I first realize Bragg was interested in Tarzan?" says Jumbo. "Well, the day we recruited him he was in his backyard in New Jersey with a lot of ropes up, swinging from tree to tree. I guess that was a good indication."
But for the most part, nary a cloud worth mentioning shadows the sweet, structured life of Jumbo Elliott. At track meets he usually sits up in the stands, sometimes with his wife and children, sometimes reading a golf magazine, mentally sharpening his swing. He knows everybody, and young coaches and runners continually stop by to chat. "Jumbo is more than a coach," says Father Driscoll. "He's an educator."
At the U.S. Olympic Invitational at Madison Square Garden in late January, Jumbo sat quietly in the first deck of seats with a group of friends. Like the other spectators, he became more animated as the time for the 1,000-meter run, featuring Paige and Belger, approached. The two had met only once before, in a 1,000-yard race in last year's Millrose Games. Paige won, setting his world record.