William Frank “Bill” Yeoman, University of Houston football coach, was born on December 26, 1927, in Elnora, Indiana. He was the youngest son of Claude Allen Yeoman and Anna Lillian (Greer) Yeoman. The Yeomans moved to Glendale, Arizona, where Bill Yeoman earned All-State honors in football and basketball at Glendale High School. He attended Texas A&M University on a scholarship for one year and lettered in both football and basketball, before accepting an appointment to the United States Military Academy.
At West Point, Yeoman played center on the 1946–48 Army teams, considered among the best in college football history. Playing for Coach Earl “Red” Blaik, Yeoman became second team All-America, was captain of the team in 1948, and later served as an assistant coach. Blaik was known for mentoring coaches who went on to distinguished careers of their own. Two coaches Yeoman worked alongside were Vince Lombardi, who led the NFL’s Green Bay Packers to five championships (including the first two Super Bowls), and Murray Warmath, who led the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers to the 1960 national championship.
Yeoman graduated from West Point in 1950. On July 8, 1950, he married Alma Jean Vance (known informally as A. J.) whom he had met while attending Texas A&M. They had four children: Bill Jr., Gary, Kathy, and Carrie. After his graduation Yeoman served in the U. S. Army in Germany for three years and earned the rank of captain. In 1954, after leaving the army, Yeoman joined Duffy Daugherty’s coaching staff at Michigan State University, where he stayed for four years. In 1962 Yeoman took the job as head coach at the University of Houston and became the fifth coach in Houston Cougars football history. “I visited the in-laws in Houston and had an inkling of what the school could become,” Yeoman recalled.
After enjoying a winning season that first year under Yeoman, the Cougars endured three losing seasons. Three things helped turn the team around. The first was recruiting Black student-athletes. Until the 1960s college football programs reflected the racial segregation of the times. But Yeoman, along with his Houston basketball counterpart Guy V. Lewis, led the integration of college sports in Texas. Yeoman recruited Warren McVea, of Brackenridge High School in San Antonio, to attend Houston. “He [Yeoman] had told the university before he came that he was going to recruit Black players,” McVea said. “So, he kind of got everybody prepared for something like that happening.”
Yeoman recalled, “I’d like to say, boy, it took a lot of thought—no—I just wanted to win some football games, and I wanted to hand it [the ball] to someone that nobody could catch.” McVea enjoyed a fine career at Houston and went on to play professional football. He was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl IV championship team.
The second contributing factor to success was Yeoman’s innovative Veer offense. The offensive scheme is built around a triple option, where the quarterback could hand the ball to the lead running back, keep the ball for himself, or pitch the ball to the trailing back. The offense revolutionized the game, and the Cougars began winning consistently. During the 1968 season the team achieved a record 562 yards a game. That year they defeated Tulsa, 100–6. Other programs adopted the Veer offense. At the University of Texas, coaches Darrell K Royal and Emory Bellard incorporated Yeoman’s concepts into the Longhorns’ wishbone offense.
The third factor for success was where Houston played its home games. When Yeoman arrived, the Cougars played at either Jeppesen Stadium (later renamed Robertson Stadium and since demolished) or Rice Stadium. When the Astrodome opened in 1965, the Cougars began playing there and stayed there through the remainder of Yeoman’s tenure. Playing in the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” which was also home to the NFL’s Houston Oilers, was attractive to football prospects.
The Houston athletic program had no conference affiliation when Yeoman became coach. In 1976 the Cougars joined the Southwest Conference. Yeoman’s teams responded by winning the conference title in three of its first four years. The team was ranked No. 4 in the nation in 1976, and the National Associated Press named Yeoman Texas Coach of the Year.
Yeoman coached for twenty-five seasons at Houston and compiled a 160–108–8 record. During his tenure he took the team to eleven bowl games (winning the Cotton Bowl in 1977 and 1980) and won four Southwest Conference titles. He retired after the 1986 season, in which the Cougars finished with their third losing record in four years. Yeoman’s retirement was accelerated by allegations that he and his assistant coaches made illicit payments to players. Yeoman remained at the university and worked as a fundraiser. He was inducted into the University of Houston Hall of Honor in 1998, received the Paul Bear Bryant Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001, and was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Additionally, he was a member of the Southwest Conference Hall of Honor, and in 2011 he was honored in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Hall of Champions. The University of Houston erected a statue of Yeoman, which sits near the northeast corner of TDECU Stadium, in 2015.
Bill Yeoman died of kidney failure and pneumonia on August 12, 2020, in Houston. He was ninety-two years old. Earlier in the year, he had recovered from the COVID-19 virus. Yeoman was buried by his wife, A.J. (she died in 2015) at Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery in Houston.
“Bill Yeoman,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/214350338/bill-yeoman), accessed August 26, 2020. “Bill Yeoman,” Texas Sports Hall of Fame (https://www.tshofinductees.org/product-page/bill-yeoman), accessed November 27, 2020. “Hall of Famer Bill Yeoman Passes Away” University of Houston Football (https://uhcougars.com/news/2020/8/12/football-hall-of-famer-bill-yeoman-passes-away.aspx), accessed August 26, 2020. Houston Chronicle, November 12, 1986; August 4, 12, 2020. Sports Reference CFB: Bill Yeoman (https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/coaches/bill-yeoman-1.html), accessed November 27, 2020.
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