In an average day, James Francis Elliott, resident of Ardmore, Pa., alumnus of Villanova and salesman for the Frantz Equipment Company, drives about 40 miles through the tidy green suburbs of Philadelphia. Jim (Jumbo) Elliott is almost continually on the move, as befits a salesman. He is on the road by 8 o'clock at the latest, and he is seldom done with all he feels he should do before 9 at night.
As almost everybody who reads the Philadelphia Bulletin may know, Salesman Jumbo Elliott keeps moving seven days a week because he leads several successful lives. He is, to accept the word of people in the business, the leading salesman of construction equipment in his area. He is also a remarkable sup-par golfer, though he scarcely has time for one round a week. He is also coach of the Villanova track team, whose recent successes will be remembered for quite a while. Last February, 20 Villanovans, a squad barely adequate to fill a dual meet, won the U.S. indoor championship and a week later the eastern indoor collegiate title. Last fall, Villanova led all the U.S. colleges, large and small, by fielding three trackmen in the Olympics. As almost anybody who reads any sports page knows, Villanova's Irishman, Ron Delany, won the Olympic 1,500 meters, and Villanova's Charlie Jenkins took the 400 and a second gold medal on the 1,600-meter relay.
At 42, Coach Jumbo Elliott of the winning Villanovans walks with the light, quick step of a young middleweight. This time of year his face is wholesomely sunburned and peeling in spots high on his forehead where his hair is fighting a losing battle.
A TIRED GRAY CADILLAC
June 2, 1957
The pace he sets for himself through his public lives and a fairly private life as husband and father of four seems to be doing Jumbo Elliott a world of good, but the two-year-old ash-gray Cadillac that he drives could stand a day of repair. One rocket fin of the Cadillac is dented, a window is cracked and the right door won't open. Jumbo Elliott uses his overworked car as a mobile office, piling onto the seat beside him the letters, journals, pamphlets and memoranda of his several lives. The pile is now four inches deep, and some of it has slipped through the seat crack into the back, so today as Elliott zips along suburban through-ways, bits of paper flutter about behind him—whispering reminders of things Jumbo Elliott still has to do. Jumbo occasionally works the pile of mail like a compost heap, digging through it for particularly rich items, thumbing Golf World to see how friend George Fazio did at White Sulphur, then scanning a copy of Rock and Dirt for a report on how surplus graders, cranes, tractors and dozers are moving, then turning to Track and Field News to see what rival athletes are up to across the U.S.
Some of the news in the next issue of Track and Field will be made by 17 of Jumbo's Villanova men who this weekend hope to edge past Manhattan College in the IC4A championships to become undisputed track lords of the East. Two weeks hence Elliott and a team of eight will be at the NCAA championships in Austin, Texas. In the 26 years since the first meet, the national collegiate title has been all but monopolized by Southern California. It has been won only once by an eastern school, by Navy in wartime when teams elsewhere were in shambles. For eight men from a college so small as Villanova to go among the track Goliaths of the west requires the faith of a shepherd boy. It is this sort of nervy faith that Jumbo Elliott seems to have, faith conceivably buoyed up this year by the tantalizing prospect that at Austin the Goliaths might be cutting each other up. Two West Coast powers, Southern California and UCLA, will not be there, banned from the track meet, strangely, because their football teams sinned a year ago. The University of Kansas, drawing from a squad deep enough to win two dual meets a week, is a logical choice, but the meet this year actually is wide open.
With the Austin meet still two weeks away, as he sits in his car scanning the form charts, Jumbo Elliott shrugs, "Whenever I used to add up points, somebody would pull a muscle and I would have to add again. So I quit adding." Jumbo drops the copy of Track and Field back on the seat, opens the good left door of his car and steps into another day of practice.
Jim Tuppeny, who also leads a double life as assistant Villanova coach and teacher in the Philadelphia school system, greets Jumbo on the infield. "Any mail?" Jumbo asks. There is mail. The Signal Corps asks if Jumbo and Champions Delany and Jenkins will speak at a dinner. There is a bill from Plastic Laminates of California—$59.68 for one new pole for Vaulter Don Bragg. A 4:22 California high school miler writes asking if he might work his way through Villanova. Jumbo is impressed by the 4:22 time and the word "work," but he says: "We shouldn't be after a California boy."
It is a cheerful, warm day, but on the finest day any track coach with a small squad has scattered moments of gloom. On the vault runway Don Bragg is having an unusually sunny moment, trying a pole of the new plastic type for the first time. He misses once at 14 feet, chicken-stepping on his approach. As he reads his mail, Jumbo hears the stuttering cadence of Bragg's feet, looks up and shouts advice. On his next try, knees flashing high, like the forefeet of a horse, Bragg goes over 14, then 14 feet 6, then 15. "It's a great pole, Jumbo," Bragg shouts. "I really feel like I'm vaulting again, man."
Jumbo nods. "Let's just sit here," he advises Tuppeny, "and he'll talk himself into liking it."
Then a moment of gloom. Quarter-miler Al Peterson approaches, favoring one leg. Miler John Kopil has already been lost for the year with a bewildering foot injury. Quarter-miler Gene Maliff has a slight pull. Now Peterson. "It's not much, Jumbo," Peterson says reassuringly.
"You got it trying to throw the javelin," Jumbo says.
High Jumper Phil Reavis approaches Jumbo with a personal problem. Jumbo puts an arm around Reavis' waist, and they take a slow walk down the infield. Dixie Dunbar, who ran on relays for Jumbo 15 years ago and now uses the Villanova track to coach Bonner High School boys, notices Jumbo and Reavis taking a slow walk and recalls that this is an old habit with Jumbo. "I was a worrywart," Dunbar says, "and Jumbo would walk me around to calm me down as he might a race horse—and the terrific thing about him as a coach is that he did not tell you, he advised you."
SUNSHINE AND GLOOM
Having given some advice to Phil Reavis, Jumbo next stops for a moment at trackside, horrified at the sight of Delany and Jenkins warming up by boxing. A double spiking would really do it, but Jumbo notes they are in rubber-soled warmup shoes and lets them be. George Sydnor, the hard luck man of Villanova, who has missed the outdoor season for three years because of muscle pulls, is loosening up. "So just how does the leg feel?" Jumbo asks (the words "so just" are an Elliottism, indicating concern). George's leg feels good, so Jumbo advises him to do 220 straights maintaining a good body angle, then turns to Distance Men Delany and Alex Breckenridge.
"I have found a nice girl for Alex," Jumbo reports.
Breckenridge grins. "If she is good-looking," Delany says, "Alex is interested. If she has money, both Alex and I are interested." The distance men go about their work, nine in-and-out quarters at four-minute mile pace, and Jumbo notes cheerfully that Delany seems to be reaching the great peak he hit before the Olympics.
There is now gloom in the pole vault pit. Bragg is staring moodily down the new pole. His competitive trail over the past three years is littered with some 15 poles that have bent under his 190 pounds. Now on the first day he has bent this new pole. Jumbo has a short talk with Bragg. They will order a new pole, longer and stronger still.
Jumbo Elliott gets home at 6:30, turning into his driveway slowly in case his older boys are "doing laps" around the house. The kids are at baseball on the front lawn. Jumbo is greeted warmly by the family dog, Prince (a sampling of many breeds), and by Wife Kay Elliott, a striking, hazel-eyed brunette. There are phone messages. A man called about a dirt scraper. There is another request for Elliott, Delany and Jenkins to speak at a dinner. On his way to the phone, Jumbo passes the den window overlooking the lawn as 10-year-old Jimmy Elliott slashes a liner through the pitcher's mound and almost through 6-year-old Tommy's head. "Kay," Jumbo cries. "They're using the hard ball. Tommy's too young for hard ball with Jimmy." Tommy is yanked from the game. Jumbo settles down at the phone but is interrupted by a shout through the window. Jimmy wants to know if Tommy can play if he stands behind a maple tree and emerges after the ball is hit. Strange baseball, but safe. Tommy goes back in the game. The Philadelphia Inquirer calls Jumbo to advise him that the 15-foot Arizona high school vaulter, Jim Brewer, is probably going to Kansas next year. "A school our size shouldn't try to compete for everybody," Jumbo tells the Inquirer. "We have to count on finding the sleepers."
Being a young, growing university without a great many old booster alumni to beat the drum and rally a track team, Villanova has counted on a more compelling force to draw good men. One good undergraduate has tended to interest another. Sophomore High Jumper Charlie Stead followed Charlie Jenkins from Cambridge, Mass. Freshman Vaulter Ron Brady followed Don Bragg across the river from Jersey. The migration of Irish trackmen began the same way. After the 1948 Games, Olympian George Guida persuaded a barrel-chested cheery Irish rival, Jim Reardon, to come to Villanova's sod. Distance Runner Browning Ross was also at the '48 Games and urged Runner John Joe Barry and a latter-day Irish whale, Cummin Clancy, to come to Villanova. Competing in Europe in 1954, Miler Fred Dwyer met the young half-miler Ron Delany. In deciding whether to come, Delany asked the opinion of Jim Reardon's father. Senior Reardon, a most proper Irish civil servant with a scandalously merry eye, remembers the moment well. "This Ron Delany looked at me with those cowlike eyes of his, and I said to him, 'When my rascal son Jim went I certainly was not for it, but from letters, I came to like this coach of his, and my son Jim has had some success, and I say, boy, go and don't waste time.' "
Often amidst the problems that arise and are solved in his several lives, an old, grating question is put to Elliott. Why, someone is bound to ask, does not Delany—or any other Villanovan, for that matter—run more often for the record? As regional, national and international honors continue to come to the Villanovans, the question scarcely deserves an answer. In Elliott's mind—and it is by no means unique to him—there is no man made who can do his utmost week after week and stay at peak through a board season that starts in December and then through an outdoor season that ends in midsummer. "I might be one of the dumbest coaches," Elliott says, "but I can look at the records of milers who ran 4:07, 4:07, 4:07, and when the chips are down they run 4:07 and get fifth." Elliott is dedicated to the belief that training is a problem to be shared by the coach and the man. "A good high school boy coming here today," he maintains, "probably had a good coach and will have his own ideas. Should I arbitrarily write out what he should do? Last year for the Olympics Delany in one day was doing 15 in-and-out quarters under 60 seconds because we felt he should do that. Every man can take a different load. Should I be an X-ray machine and look inside a man, when I can ask him? We have our rebuttals here in training—one day a man wants to do 220s and I will be thinking of quarters. We settle it and it doesn't really matter how. It is my job to see that the boys practice and enjoy it. It's their job when the chips are down."