The Houston Cougars were a nothing football program when Bill Yeoman took over as head coach in 1962. The team’s struggled to be something more than nothing since his departure after the 1986 season. He won 160 games over his career while coaching UH to 11 bowl games.
Yeoman left the program following a 1-10 1986 season that saw the program torn apart by an NCAA investigation that probably helped to tarnish the reputation of one of the great figures in Texas coaching history. He made the Cougars nationally relevant. He recruited the first African-American player to a major college football program in the state of Texas. And he’s credited as the inventor of the Veer offense, perhaps the most revolutionary college football offense of the 1960s and 70s — it’s still used in high school and its blocking concepts are key components of the current zone blocking scheme.
Yeoman produced 46 All-Americans while the UH head coach, and he sent 69 of his players to the pros. The UH job was only his second job as a football coach, and it was the last coaching job he ever took. And just like former basketball coach Guy V. Lewis, he embraced the challenges of coaching at Houston, fighting to get the school into the Southwest Conference and trying to stay on even footing with the University of Texas.
So come Sunday afternoon, the University of Houston will be unveiling a statue of Yeoman as part of Fan Appreciation Day. The statue will be located at the Legends Plaza portion of TDECU Stadium just outside of Gate 1. The day kicks off at noon when the statue is revealed to the public, and fans will get a chance to have photos with Yeoman as well as to get his autograph.
“I spent 11 years coaching in the state and cut my teeth in this profession in this state,” UH head coach Tom Herman told the Houston Press on Wednesday night. “I knew about [the school’s football history] before I got here. The great ones that we’ve had come through here. Not just players but coaches obviously with Coach Yeoman. It’s an honor that he has certainly earned and deserved, and he’s been a great resource for me. He’s in the building at least a few times a week. If I’ve got time, we usually make time to sit down and pick his brain on some things.”
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I was a student at Houston during Yeoman’s last years as head coach, just as I was there for the last years of Lewis’ coaching tenure. And it just seems kind of strange. It just seemed at the time that while the Cougars might always have some down years, football and basketball would always find a way to win games, win conferences, and go to bowl games. Yet things didn’t stay the same, and UH just became one of those athletic programs living off of past glories with the occasional moment in the sun to make fans and alumni yearn for more.
Tom Herman seems to be everywhere. He’s coaching the team through practices, making TV and radio appearances. He’s more than just a head coach, he’s a full-on PR machine, going wherever needed, whenever needed, to sell UH football, UH athletics, and the University of Houston. He’s in the public to a degree not seen by a UH coach of any sport in years. He seems to grasp the issues at Houston, of being a coach at a mid-level football program in a mid-level conference, grasping at any straw it can to return to national relevancy.
Maybe there’s a reason that UH is unveiling a statue of Bill Yeoman this year, this weekend, further acknowledging the greatness of the man responsible for putting Houston Cougars football on the map. And it’s the struggles of UH to remain relevant in the years since Yeoman’s departure that demonstrate more than anything — more than the bowl games, his offensive genius, or the actual number of games he won — just how difficult coaching at UH really is, and just what a miracle it was to have him as the coach for 25 years.
So head out to UH this weekend for the statue unveiling and the chance to meet Yeoman. There’s no telling when another football coach will pop up on the UH campus and do what Yeoman was able to do.