Jack Elway Is Fired by Stanford

Times Staff Writer

Jack Elway, who may be better known for steering his son to Stanford than for coaching there, was fired Monday after a 5-year tenure that produced a 25-29-2 record. Elway, who had previously coached at San Jose State and Cal State Northridge, oversaw a 3-6-2 team this past season.

Andy Geiger, Stanford’s director of athletics, said: “I believe it is in the best interest of Stanford football to take a new direction.” He said a search for a successor would begin immediately.

In his 5 years at Stanford, beginning 2 years after his son John finished his college career there as an All-American quarterback, Elway produced just one winning season, in 1986, when his team went 8-4 and went to the Gator Bowl. It was Stanford’s first bowl appearance since 1978.


But the Cardinal went 5-6 in 1987 and this season sunk to its worst record since 1983. The team finished 1-5-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference in 1988.

Elway, 57, was coaching at San Jose State when his son, a heavily recruited prep star at Granada Hills, chose Stanford. Both enjoyed a stardom independent of each other in the next 4 seasons: Jack as a two-time Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. coach of the year with a record of 35-20-1, including three upsets of Stanford; John as a record-setting passer for Stanford and eventually the first player chosen in the 1983 NFL draft.

A former quarterback himself (Washington State), Jack Elway was a proponent of high-powered passing games. But, knowing that his son was intent on playing in the Pac-10, he did not attempt to recruit him for his own program, although he did tell him he’d offer him a scholarship if he wanted one. Instead, he counseled him on the opportunities Stanford presented.

Even without his son, Jack Elway made a habit of bedeviling Pac-10 teams, particularly Stanford, from his San Jose vantage point. In 1982, his team beat three Pac-10 teams in a row, including a nationally televised 35-31 victory over Stanford, which was led by the other Elway. His San Jose State team beat Pac-10 teams 7 of the last 11 times they met.

His last season at San Jose, he coached the West team in the East-West Shrine Game. By then, his name was cropping up when coaching vacancies developed; he was mentioned in connection with the Cal job and also with a United States Football League team. He was interesting as much for his style as his success.

“Coach Elway is cagey,” said Mike Wyman, who played both for and against him while at Stanford. “We always knew that when we played against him. He always had something up his sleeve.”

He was not so successful coaching Stanford as he was coaching against Stanford, and his record in Pac-10 play suffered.

And, although he fathered one of the school’s most successful quarterbacks, as a coach he could not develop any new stars in Stanford’s quarterback tradition. And this year, with four losses by four points or fewer, the program sank to its worst record since Elway was hired to replace Paul Wiggin.

Before going to San Jose State, Elway also had a successful stay in the San Fernando Valley, where, in his first head coaching job, he led Cal State Northridge to a 20-11-1 record in 3 seasons.