Maisel on Yost and Rockne Feud - "Hurdle the Dead"

Submitted by Everyone Murders on May 22nd, 2012 at 2:02 PM

Ivan Maisel has an interesting piece on the roots of the Fielding Yost and Knute Rockne feud.  It's a concise snapshot of the roots of the rivalry, and good fodder for the "slow season" we're in right now.  The article is here:   .

I've always enjoyed the rivalry, finding the Irish to be one of the classier rival fan bases, and less prone to cooler-pooping and couch-burning than some fan bases.  Yost's delight in running up points and pissing off opposing coaches with a sharp tongue makes me think of him as an earlier-day Steve Spurrier type. 

Choice bits from the Maisel article include:

When Yost became head coach in 1901, he transformed the Wolverines into the most dominant program in the nation. Michigan didn't lose a game under Yost until 1905. These were known as the "Point-A-Minute" teams, both for their margins of victory and to reflect the head coach's personality. Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton would describe Yost's methods as "tramp on the injured and hurdle the dead."
Yost believed Rockne cut corners in recruiting, promising employment and scholarship aid that the rules did not allow and looking the other way when Irish players participated in pro football games on the side.



May 22nd, 2012 at 2:30 PM ^

...punch as I was about to post this myself. has several outstanding treatments of this topic that shed some additional light, including much that's offered by John Kryk, author of Natural Enemies:

So what was the feud all about?  Undoubtedly there was some anti-Catholicism in spite of his protestation to Rockne that:

Creed has nothing to do with it. Three of the last four football captains at Michigan have been Catholic and many of my best friends are…. [emphasis added]

But ultimately, it was about Yost's conclusion that Notre Dame simply flouted the rules. Yost was ruthless about protecting the Michigan program and fighting anyone who dared to upset its dominance. He clearly felt that Notre Dame ran a program that gave it advantages over its competitors (more games on the schedule, freshmen team that played intercollegiately, questions about the eligibility of players, and the use of the Notre Dame shift that put up to 4 players in motion at the snap). In particular:

The [1909 loss to Notre Dame] rankled Yost and his team, because Michigan was observing the new Conference rules that barred freshmen and limited player eligibility to three years, while Notre Dame was still wantonly playing freshmen and four-year men.

Michigan grudgingly rescheduled Notre Dame for 1910, solely to give Yost and the players a shot at redemption. But they insisted Notre Dame play by Michigan’s rules — namely, no playing any freshmen or four-year men.

Rule 6 of the 1910 Notre Dame-Michigan game contract

Come fall, three of Notre Dame’s star players from 1909 returned — grizzled linemen Ralph Dimmick and George Philbrook, and back Lee Matthews. Michigan did more digging into their pasts and found that Dimmick and Philbrook were in their seventh years of college football, after having played one season at the University of Pacific in Oregon, three at Whitman College in Washington state, and two previous at Notre Dame. And Matthews had played at the University of Washington in 1907 and the two previous years at Notre Dame. But it wasn’t as cut-and-dried as that.   Pacific and Whitman weren’t included on the Conference’s "list of colleges" for the determination of counting such years of eligibility, and thus Notre Dame argued these men were only in their third years. 

So Maisel did a good job capturing the feud, but washes over the validity of Yost's concerns about Notre Dame's 1909 and 1910 teams.


May 22nd, 2012 at 5:34 PM ^

I can't speak for Kryk of course, but I don't believe he found a lot on Yost being concerned over Rockne's recruiting habits.   Speaking of the rules, a major beef of Yost's, which Maisel doesn't really hit on, was Rockne's use of "the shift".   Kryk wrote in Natural Enemies and explained some of that here in this post:


A big reason why no one would schedule the Gophers was that Minnesota’s coach, Doc Spears, ran his offense out of “the shift”.    Spears was buds with Knute Rockne—the man who perfected it.  Here’s how Rockne’s official page on the Notre Dame website sums it up:

In the shift, all four backs were still in motion at the snap. Opponents were so dumbfounded by the shift that they couldn’t find a consistent way to handle it. The rules board finally enacted a law against the shift.

The leading conference coaches (including Fielding Yost, Illinois’ Bob Zuppke and Chicago’s AA Stagg) felt it was not so much dumbfounding as it was illegal.  Opponents saw the shift effectively giving the backs a head start (or at least momentum) when the ball was snapped, putting the defense at a disadvantage.  Naturally Notre Dame fans argued (and still argue) it was brilliant strategy, while Yost and others said was cheating.   [Ed. And speaking of brilliant, check out John Kyrk’s excellent rundown of the politics of the shift in Natural Enemies.]




May 22nd, 2012 at 2:22 PM ^

I really enjoy these kinds of looking-back into the history and lineage of Michigan football.

I keep waiting for "tradition" to become an out-of-fashion concept, but from what I see and read about some of the incoming recruits ... it still resonates.  I'm glad it does.