San Jose State football coaching legend Claude Gilbert dies at 91

San Jose State football coaching legend Claude Gilbert dies at 91

Former San Jose State head coach Claude Gilbert, who led the Spartans to consecutive conference championships in 1986 and 1987, died last week after a battle with lung cancer. He was 91.

“Claude Gilbert was such a special man, coach, and Spartan,” current SJSU head football coach Brent Brennan said in a release from the school Saturday announcing Gilbert’s passing. “He was a great leader and a true winner. The stories of his coaching years at SJSU are legendary and when I came back as the head coach he was always there for me. I will miss his funny stories and his amazing authenticity. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all that knew and loved him.”

Gilbert was inducted to the CEFCU Stadium Hall of Fame in 2006. He was the only SJSU football player to be named team captain, return as an assistant coach and later return as head coach.

“I am saddened to hear of the passing of a Spartan coaching legend, Claude Gilbert,” SJSU athletic director Jeff Konya said in the release. “He was a foundational and transcendent coach for the Spartans in the long history of San José State football. Our collective thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”

Gilbert was born in Oklahoma, but grew up in Bakersfield. Gilbert went to Bakersfield College and played football for a year before enlisting in the United States Air Force to serve in the Korean War. Gilbert returned to Bakersfield College, then transferred to SJSU where lettered for football for two years and was named team captain his senior year.

After his playing career ended, Gilbert coached at Tulare High School where was the football, wrestling and track coach for two years. He got his start in college football in 1967 where he was an assistant coach at San Diego State under then head coach Don Coryell.

After six seasons as an assistant, Gilbert became the Aztecs head coach in 1973 where compiled a 61-26-2 record over seven seasons.

Gilbert left San Diego State in 1981 to become SJSU’s defensive coordinator and later became head coach of the Spartans in 1984.

During his time as SJSU’s head coach, Gilbert led the Spartans to back-to-back Pacific Coast Athletic Association conference championships in 1986 and 1987, finishing with records of 10-2 in both years.

In 1989, Gilbert was relieved from his duties as SJSU head coach after signing 21 junior college transfers — against mandates from SJSU’s athletic administration to focus more on high school recruiting. Gilbert appealed his termination in 1990, but the California State of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit.

After SJSU, Gilbert was the defensive coordinator of Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League of American Football, head coach of Highland High School and made his last stop at San Diego State as the defensive coordinator from 1995-1999.

Gilbert spent the later years of his life living in Apple Valley.