From 1901 to 1905, his "Point-a-Minute" squads had a record of 55–1–1, outscoring their opponents by a margin of 2,821 to 42. The 1901 team beat Stanford, 49–0, in the 1902 Rose Bowl, the first college football bowl game. Under Yost, Michigan won four straight national championships from 1901 to 1904 and two more in 1918 and 1923.
In 1921, Yost became Michigan's athletic director and served in that capacity until 1940. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1951. Yost was also a successful business person, lawyer, and author; but he is best known as a leading figure in pioneering the development of college football into a national phenomenon.
Yost was born in Fairview, West Virginia, in April 1871. Yost's family had settled in West Virginia, in 1925. He was the oldest of four children of Parmenus (sometimes Permenus) Wesley Yost (1845–1920) and Elzena Jane (Ammons) Yost (1852–1943), both natives of West Virginia. His father was a farmer and a Confederate veteran. His family had been in Fairview since 1825 when his great, great grandfather, David Yost, settled there and took up a grant of over 2,000 acres.
Yost was educated in the local schools and became a deputy marshal in Fairview as a teenager. At seventeen, he earned a public-school teaching certificate.
Yost began his college education at Fairmont Normal School in Fairmont, West Virginia. He then taught school at Patterson Creek, West Virginia, during the 1889–90 school year.
He next enrolled at the Ohio Normal School (now known as Ohio Northern University). Yost played for the Ohio Normal baseball team. After three years at Ohio Normal, he returned to West Virginia to work in the oil fields.
In 1895, Yost enrolled at West Virginia University where he studied law, earning an LL.B. He also played football for the West Virginia University football team. A 6-foot, 200 pounder, Yost was a standout at tackle at West Virginia into the 1896 season.
In October 1896, after his team lost three home games to Lafayette, played on three different fields over the course of three days, Yost became a remarkable personification of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." He transferred in mid-season to join Coach Parke H. Davis's national championship team at Lafayette. Just a week after playing against Davis in West Virginia, Yost was playing for Davis in Lafayette's historic 6-4 win over the Penn Quakers.
The fortuitous timing of his appearance on the Lafayette roster did not go unnoticed by Penn officials. They called it "the Yost affair." The Philadelphia Ledger quoted Yost as saying that he came to Lafayette only to play football. The fact that he appeared in a Lafayette uniform only once, in the Penn game, and that he returned to West Virginia within two weeks of the contest did not help appearances. He assured all concerned that he would return to Lafayette for at least three years of study.
Yost began his coaching career in 1897 at age 26 as the football coach at Ohio Wesleyan University. The 1897 Ohio Wesleyan team compiled a 7-1-1 record, shut out six of its nine opponents, outscored all opponents by a combined total of 144 to 32, and won the Ohio Conference championship. On October 9, 1897, Yost's team played Michigan to a scoreless tie in Ann Arbor.
In 1898, Yost was hired to coach the Nebraska football team with compensation of $1,000 for 10 weeks of service. The 1898 Nebraska team compiled an 8–3 record, including victories over Iowa State (23-10), Missouri (47–6), Kansas (18–6), and Colorado (23–10), and losses to Drake (6–5) and Iowa (6–5).
In June 1899, the University of Kansas Athletic Association offered Yost $350, and an additional $150 conditionally, to coach the school's football team. After spending the summer in Colorado, Yost arrived in Lawrence, Kansas, on September 4, 1899. During the 1899 season, the Kansas football team "lived separate from the rest of the students and ate specially selected and prepared food . . . with Coach Yost as their only mentor". The team compiled an undefeated 10–0 record, outscoring opponents 280 to 37. The season included victories over the Haskell Indians (12–0 and 18–0), Nebraska (36–20), and Missouri (34–6). During the 1899-90 academic year, Kansas had Yost as its football coach and James Naismith as its basketball coach. Naismith also served as an assistant football coach during the 1899 season.
In May 1900, Yost was hired as the football coach at Stanford University, and, after traveling home to West Virginia, he arrived in Palo Alto, California, on August 21, 1900. Yost led the 1900 Stanford team to a 7–2–1, outscoring opponents 154 to 20.
After first applying at Illinois, Yost was hired in 1901 by Charles A. Baird as the head football coach for the Michigan Wolverines football team.
Yost coached at Michigan from 1901 through 1923, and again in 1925 and 1926. He was highly successful at Michigan, winning 165 games, losing only 29, and tying 10 for a winning percentage of .833. Under Yost, Michigan won four straight national championships from 1901 to 1904 and two more in 1918 and 1923.
Yost's first Michigan team in 1901 outscored its opposition by a margin of 550–0 en route to a perfect season and victory in the inaugural Rose Bowl on January 1, 1902, over Stanford, the team Yost had coached the year before. From 1901 to 1904, Michigan did not lose a game, and was tied only once in a legendary game with the Minnesota Golden Gophers that led to the establishment of the Little Brown Jug. Yost's teams used the short punt formation. He also developed a play called "Old 83" resembling an option.
Before Michigan finally lost a game to Amos Alonzo Stagg's Chicago Maroons squad at the end of the 1905 season, they had gone 56 straight games without a defeat, the second longest such streak in college football history. During their first five seasons under Yost, Michigan outscored its opponents 2,821 to 42, earning the Michigan team the nickname "Point-a-Minute." The team featured running back Willie Heston, who Yost called the greatest player he ever saw.
In 1904, Germany Schulz stood up from the center position and created the position of linebacker. Yost was horrified at first, but came to see the wisdom in Schulz's innovation.
In 1908, Michigan lost to Penn 29–0, the worst defeat suffered by a Michigan team during the Yost era. Yost said of Schulz's performance: "He gave the greatest one-man exhibition of courage I ever saw on a football field."
In 1909, Michigan suffered its first loss to Notre Dame. In 1910, Michigan was led by All-Americans Albert Benbrook and Stanfield Wells and played its only undefeated season of the independent years, compiling a 3–0–3 record.
In 1916, John Maulbetsch led Michigan to one of its finest records. The Wolverines won seven straight games.
Led by fullback Frank Steketee, the 1918 team went undefeated in the war-shortened season. The 1922 and 1923 teams went undefeated, led by punter Harry Kipke. The only blemish was a tie with Yost protege and brother-in-law Dan McGugin's Vanderbilt.
At the end of the season, Yost called the 1925 Michigan team "the greatest football team I ever coached" and "the greatest football team I ever saw in action". The team featured quarterback Benny Friedman and left end Bennie Oosterbaan, sometimes referred to as "The Benny-to-Bennie Show".
In tribute to the school where Yost began his coaching career, he arranged for Michigan to play its first game at Ferry Field (September 30, 1905) and its first game at Michigan Stadium (October 1, 1927) against Ohio Wesleyan.
After retiring from coaching, Yost remained at Michigan as the school's athletic director, a position he held until 1940, then held the title of athletic director emeritus. Under his leadership, Michigan Stadium, Yost Fieldhouse (now Yost Ice Arena), and the university's golf course were constructed.
Yost was in poor health for several years before his death and was hospitalized at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in May 1946. He reportedly suffered from a stroke, but was released after two weeks and returned to his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In August 1946, Yost died of a gall bladder attack at his home. He was survived by his wife, whom he had married in 1906, a son, Fielding H. Yost, Jr., two brothers, Ellis and Nichola, and a sister, Mrs. Charles Barry. Yost was buried at Ann Arbor's Forest Hill Cemetery near the University of Michigan campus.
A native of West Virginia, Yost's unusual pronunciation of the school's name, "MEE-she-gan," copied by long-time Michigan football broadcaster Bob Ufer, is affectionately carried on by many Michigan football fans and often referenced by ESPN sportscaster Chris Fowler.
A devout Christian, he was nevertheless among the first coaches to allow Jewish players on his teams, including Joe Magidsohn and Benny Friedman. However, Murray Sperber's book Shake Down the Thunder places principal responsibility for the Big Ten blackballing and boycotting of Notre Dame on Yost. It also claims this was motivated by anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant prejudice common in the early 20th century, though John Kyrk's book Natural Enemies points out that there was a bitter feud between Yost and Knute Rockne, head coach of the Notre Dame football team.
Arguably, no one has left a larger mark on University of Michigan athletics and varsity football than Fielding Yost. "No other man has ever given as much heart, soul, brains, and tongue to the game he loved—football" said Grantland Rice. A longtime football coach and athletic director, his career was marked with achievement. Yost was among the inaugural class of inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.
Yost invented the position of linebacker with center Germany Schulz; co-created the first ever bowl game, the 1902 Rose Bowl, with then legendary UM athletic director Charles Baird; invented the fieldhouse concept that bears his name; and supervised the building of the first on-campus building dedicated to intramural sports.
Yost was also known for a series of admonitions to his players beginning with the words, "Hurry up," for example, "Hurry up and be the first man down the field on a punt or kick-off." This inclination earned him the nickname, "Hurry up" Yost. He was also an innovator of the hurry up offense.
Yost initiated the concept of coaching as an actual profession near the turn of the century when he was paid as much as a UM professor. The professionalization of coaches that started with Yost and earlier, Walter Camp at Yale University, symbolized how serious college football was becoming, and Yost symbolized this more so than any of his peers. It was he who first articulated the now accepted premise about student-athletes in the sport that: "Football builds character."
No fewer than 75 men who either played for Yost, or coached under him as an assistant, went on to become head coaches in college football. Two, Benny Friedman and Tommy Hughitt, helmed teams in the National Football League (NFL). Yost's coaching tree includes: