Michigan Football: Twelve Wondrous Wolverines — #1 — Fielding H. Yost — THE Leader, the Best, and the Visionary
The number one Wondrous Wolverine of all time is the architect and builder of the magnificent Michigan tradition, Fielding H. Yost. Without Yost, Michigan probably would not have the Big House, dozens of Big Ten titles, and the winningest program in history. He brought a respectable early history program into the national spotlight.
The legendary Gustave Ferbert took off for the Klondike in Alaska and eventually hit some big gold claims. Gustave got the ball rolling concerning the evolution of the Michigan football program. His record was a magnificent 24-3. Coaching salaries were in the very low thousands of dollars back then, not in the millions. So, the lure of striking it rich going after gold was real indeed. Who knows what would have happened if Gustave would have stayed another 25 years?
Michigan pulled out the checkbook and hired Langdon Lea, a three time Princeton All-American in 1900. He had a successful season, but Michigan lost two games and Lea went back to Princeton at a pay reduction.
So, the year is 1901 and entering as Head Coach was Fielding H. Yost. Yost was born in West Virginia and went to Ohio Northern University. Later he attended West Virginia University were he played football. He coached at Ohio Wesleyan, Kansas, Nebraska, and Stanford.
Today, when there is a coaching change, adjustment is a spoken descriptor. The assumption is that the program will take a few years to reach the vision put forward. No such occurrence happened in Yost’s first year.
1901 was a year of Michigan success that is practically unmatched in college football history. Michigan finished 11-0 in Yost’s first year and won the national title. Michigan was invited to the first Rose Bowl (known as east-west back then) and dominated Stanford 49-0. In fact the game was called with time still on the clock. This lopsided win caused a fifteen-year gap between Michigan’s lop-sided win and the next Rose Bowl game.
Yost did not stop with one national title. The Michigan team ran off national titles in 1902, 1903, and 1904. Finally, at the end of the 1905 season, Fielding H. Yost and Michigan lost to Amos Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago, ending a near five- year string of 56 games without a loss. During this five-year span, Michigan outscored opponents 2821 to 42. This is like Cy Young’s 511 wins, or Richard Petty’s 200 wins: good luck ever breaking that record.
These teams became know as the “point a minute “ teams, but actually Michigan’s success was based on defense. The opposition scored about 1 point a game over that long span.
Michigan’s success continued, usually losing one or two games a year. But in 1918 and 1923, Yost’s teams again won national titles, bringing the total to six. His final record at Michigan was 165-29-10 with ten Big Ten championships. Yost’s final record, including his other one-year stops was 198-35-12. Keep in mind that in some years few games were played.
Yost was much more than a standard football coach. He was also a businessman, writer, and lawyer. He served as Michigan’s athletic director from 1921 to 1941. He raised standards and was a true visionary and leader in developing the idea of athletic facilities tied together as a separate part of a university. The Yost Field House was built and the first dedicated intramural facility was built.
But the project that cemented Yost’s magnificent legacy was Michigan Stadium. Yost wanted a stadium that held over 150,000, perhaps as many as 200,000 spectators. The Michigan administrator would not go for those gaudy numbers in a small town like Ann Arbor. Yost won one significant concession, the footings for the stadium were built to support expansions of up to 150,000 or so fans.
In 1927 Yost’s dream house opened against Ohio Wesleyan with a capacity of over 80,000. Those who visit the Big House can look around and see the original seating.
No one has more of a legacy in Michigan athletics than Fielding H. Yost. His success was not random, and his success went far beyond football coaching. Six national titles, ten conference titles, records that will be unmatched, and a place equal to anyone, including Stagg and Rockne, in coaching history remain evidence for Yost’s greatness. In 1951, Yost was elected to the initial College Hall of Fame class.
Yost was a visionary and ahead of his time. Everything about Yost was legendary, and his place as the most wondrous Wolverine will remain. Meechigan will always be Meechigan.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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