Happy Birthday to one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football, former Houston Cougar head man, Bill Yeoman.
In December of 1961, Houston hired Yeoman, then a running backs coach at Michigan State to take over its middling football program. Yeoman would guide the program for a quarter century. And it almost didn't happen.
Yeoman, a West Point grad, was a front-runner for the vacant Black Knights' opening. Born in Indiana but reared in Texas, Yeoman attended Texas A&M for two years before he received his coveted West Point appointment. Yeoman was a captain of the 1948 Army team and played and later coached under legendary head man Red Blaik. Houston had the foresight to act quickly and snap up the 34-year old off Duffy Daugherty's Michigan State staff.
The early 60s were a time of great transition for Houston; the school became a State institution in 1963 and eyed a Southwest Conference bid.
Yeoman's time under Daugherty influenced his coaching career. Daugherty was a pioneer of racial integration, having recruited African American players since the late 1940s. By the time Yeoman arrived on Daugherty's staff, the Spartans had significant in-roads into the Jim Crow south and used those connections to bring on more African American players than even most of their northern counterparts. Players like Herb Adderley, Sherman Lewis, Willie Thrower, and Don Coleman blazed a path to East Lansing.
For Yeoman, a school in the middle of the south, open to him recruiting African Americans was a chance for the Cougars to become a power. The Cougar administration may not have been in total support of Yeoman, but that didn't deter the young head coach. It didn't hurt that Guy Lewis was recruiting Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney and making Houston into a national basketball power.
Yeoman recruited players that coaches like Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles yearned to bring on their respective campuses. Players like the great Warren McVea who scorned other out of state offers, including a letter from Harry Truman enticing him to attend Missouri to attend Houston.
McVea was part of a movement that eventually even the SWC couldn't ignore. The league couldn't deal with Yeoman's Veer Offense, a scheme that brought the league to its knees. Where other coaches were afraid to entrust their offenses to an African American quarterback, Yeoman didn't have such biases, plus, Yeoman knew that putting his best athletes on the field gave him the best chance to win. African American quarterbacks like D.C. Nobles, Danny Davis, Delrick Brown, Lionel Wilson, and Gerald Landry became option offense artists and some of the most effective quarterbacks of the era.
While Yeoman helped integrate football in the south, he didn't view himself as a social justice icon. Instead, he saw himself as a coach first and foremost. A coach wants to give his team the best chance to win, no matter what his team looks like. That's the lasting legacy of Yeoman; he looked at the merit of an individual without regard for the color of their skin. It took people like Bill Yeoman to help change football's biased recruiting practices and break down racial barriers across the country.
Yeoman won 59% of his games at Houston, four SWC titles, and his teams finished in the top 15 of the final AP poll five times, landing in the top ten three times. He coached 46 All-Americans, and 69 of his players went on to the National Football League. Yeoman is in the College Football Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the Houston Hall of Honor, and in 2002 he received the Bear Bryant Lifetime Achievement Award.