Coach Bill Yeoman has died. Perhaps no person in the University of Houston’s 93-year history has touched more lives in more ways than Coach.
He was 92.
For nearly six decades, Yeoman has played an outsized role at the University of Houston. Known simply as Coach to the hundreds of men that played for him and a generation of fans that idolized him, The folksy coach was a father figure to players and fans alike.
Yeoman started his college career at A&M but left after an appointment to West Point. There, he played under the legendary Red Blaik. He played for Army from 1946 to 1948, serving as team captain on the ’48 team that went 8-0-1 and finished #6 in the country.
After graduating from West Point, Yeoman served in the Army 1950-53. After the service, he was hired as an assistant coach at Michigan State where he the staff of College Football Hall of Famer Duffy Daugherty.
In the winter of 1961, Yeoman was chosen as the new UH head coach. Yeoman opened his career at UH by going 7-4, including back-to-back wins over Baylor and Texas A&M to start the year and a Tangerine Bowl victory over Miami, OH.
But Yeoman and the Cougars struggled for the next 3.5 years. During the 1965 season, he and AD Harry Fouke were being hung in effigy on campus thanks to the team’s 1-4 start. That’s when Yeoman decided to use the offense he’d tinkered with in spring practice and again in fall camp.
In Knoxville the night before the Tennessee game, Yeoman made two announcements: Bo Burris was his quarterback and the next day, they would run the Veer option.
“I’d drawn it on paper and practiced it in the spring of 1965,” Yeoman said to SI in 1973. “But I didn’t have the guts to go to it until midseason when it looked as if we were all about to be fired.”
After a closer-than-expected loss to the Vols, UH won three-straight games including wins over the vaunted Ole Miss Rebs and #10 Kentucky. After a season-ending tie with Florida State, the Veer would now be Yeoman’s offense. Over time, that triple-option attack would become part of the Yeoman persona.
From 1966 to 1968, Houston led the nation in offense. UH set an NCAA record for total offense in 1968, scoring 42.5 points a game.
Yeoman was famous for being open with other coaches about the Veer. Oftentimes, he would help high school coaches learn and understand the offense.
Beginning in the late 60’s, Yeoman put together a book with concepts, ideas, and plays to help other coaches understand the Veer.
Yeoman said the Veer placed enough demand on the defense and forced them to limit the number of alignments and stunts. He believed the Veer exploited the mental part of the game in favor of the offense.
The Veer also allowed the offense a lot of flexibility once the QB looked over the defense. In 1975, he wrote:
“QB says 13 Veer or 12 at the line on two. Offense will go to the line. QB surveys the defense and says, ‘Down – 13 – Go – Go!’ We will run the 13 Veer.”
There are very few things more important in the South than football. Yet before he had any sustained success, Yeoman bucked tradition and worked to integrate the sport in Texas. At a time and in a place that was hostile to such efforts, Yeoman explained he just wanted to win football games.
“I’m prejudiced, all right,” Yeoman told a mostly-black audience at the Shamrock Hilton.
“All their eyes lit up,” Cougar head coach Bill Yeoman explained. “Until I said, ‘I’m prejudiced against bad football players.’”
Yeoman chose to focus on finding the best players regardless of race. That philosophy, and a little luck, helped him land the #1 recruit in the nation in 1964: Wonderous Warren McVea.
“People around here wanted to win,” Yeoman told author Robert D. Jacobus for his book, Houston Cougars in the 1960s. “And if they thought Warren could help us, they didn’t care what color he was.”
McVea signed with the Cougars in the summer of 1964 and was on campus a month later. He became one of the most important players in UH history.
But just as important, and less known, is that Yeoman was the first major college coach in the south to hire a black assistant. Yeoman convinced East Texas legend Elmer Redd to join his staff.
Redd had won state titles at Lufkin Dunbar in 1964, ’66, and ’67. When Lufkin schools were desegregated in 1970, it was the perfect time for Redd to come onto the UH staff. Redd coached eight 1,000 yard rushers in his 17 years as UH’s running backs coach. He also helped UH become a serious player in East Texas recruiting.
part 2 of Yeoman’s obituary will be posted a bit later.