CSUF Cross-country head coach John Elders is racing to be the best

In Sports
CSUF Cross-country head coach John Elders laughs with CSUF athletes and a FOX sports reporter after the NCAA championship.
Courtesy of CSUF Athletics

It’s impossible to miss the slew of awards and history John Elders, CSUF cross-country and track and field head coach, uses as decor when walking into his office at the very top of Titan Stadium.

On the left side of the wall is a framed article and picture of Mike Tansley, who was the first All-American in Track and Field for Cal State Fullerton, and the first Titan to ever qualify for a Division I NCAA meet in 1994.

Above Elders’ head, placed on a shelf, are two trophies — both championship trophies from the Big West conference men’s track and field for 2017 and 2018.

Despite the numerous achievements and awards Elders has won, he is still hungry for more.

“The goal is to win championships in all four sports,” Elders said. “We feel like we have the coaching staff and an attractive university where we have a lot to sell here.”

Although coach Elders was hired as the head coach for the Titans in the spring of 1988, his involvement with the program began in 1984, when he was a fifth-year senior transfer and competed in both cross-country, and track and field teams.

After his senior season, Elders was brought on as a part-time assistant coach. Elders stayed in the position for three years while also teaching at Fullerton Union High School. This is where Elders began to find his passion for coaching, and after 31 years of coaching, he hasn’t skipped a beat.

“I love what I do. Coaching at my alma mater, I’m in a sport that I’m passionate about. I enjoy coaching and mentoring young people,” Elders said.

Besides winning championships, coach Elders is also recognized by being the longest tenured head coach in the history of CSUF. With a lot of experience under his belt, Elders still manages to keep up his energy and continues to be a role model, which athletes appreciate.

“I like the energy he brings,” said fifth-year sprinter Mason Rollins. “He wants to be our mentor, making sure we get through all of our adversities and getting through the year.”

Elders has set himself apart from other coaching styles by being involved with the athletes.  

“Some places, they just care about athletics. Coach Elders makes sure that your academics are good and that you’re doing good,” said sophomore sprinter Gino Long III.

Just last year, for the first time in his coaching career, Elders was named the 2017 Big West Conference Coach of the Year. However, before his recent success, both the cross-country and track and field teams struggled because of the lack of funding to the program and lack of scholarships that were given out.

Before finishing first place in men’s track for 2017 and 2018, the highest the men’s track team ever finished was third place in 2006. For women’s track, its top finish ever is fourth place and has yet to win a Big West title.

The constant struggles made it difficult for coach Elders to handle, especially being at the bottom.

“I can remember walking away from our conference championship meets year after year just being disappointed.,” Elders said. “It was really difficult to handle being near the bottom of the conference.”

But because of his glass half-full mentality and the attitude to move forward and get better, both men’s and women’s track and cross-country teams are aiming to win their conference championships.

The women’s cross-country team lost by 6 points in the conference championship this year while women’s track was leading with three events left until it finished fourth last year.

Even with the ups and downs throughout his career, Elders still manages to joke around.

“I still feel like a goofy 18-year-old at 56. That part has not left me. I just really like to have fun with the kids. They just shake their heads most of the time,” Elders said.

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