Turns out football icon Fielding H. Yost was even craftier than I gave him credit for last week. One of the unwitting contributors to Yost’s game-winning shenanigans here in 1899 was Dr. James Naismith, whom you may have heard of.
There are two stories about how Yost via Naismith acquired an itinerant superstar to help fashion a 10-0 record in his lone grid season at KU. Both involve Rollo Krebs, who must have been a superb athlete. Yost coached winning teams at Ohio Wesleyan, Nebraska, Kansas and Stanford before he went to Michigan in 1901 and gained hall of fame status as a coach and athletic director.
Yost was infamous as a nifty operator who could quickly raise money and buy the best players available, sometimes not even bothering to enroll them in school. He even sullied super-ethical basketball inventor Naismith with his KU chicanery. Here’s an early inkling of his wheeler-dealer tendencies.
Yost began his college career at West Virginia in 1894 at age 23. He was a stellar 6-foot, 200-pound tackle. In 1896 after WVU lost three games to Lafayette in a three-day period, he transferred at mid-season to Lafayette and helped that school beat mighty Penn 6-4 for a mythical national championship. You can imagine the uproar when it was found Yost played only one game at Lafayette, then went back to West Virginia, vowing he would play three more years.
In 1897, however, he was at Ohio Wesleyan to begin his coaching legendry. While at West Virginia he met tackle Rollo Krebs. I’m indebted to a reader, whose name I can’t find, for some of the following.
Krebs played five years of football at West Virginia, 1894-98, and also is listed as a coach for the ’97 team. Yost was a teammate and fraternity brother at WVU. In 1899, Krebs “enrolled” as a Kansas University freshman and listed his home town as South Cedar, Kan.
One story is that he went out for freshman basketball for which James Naismith was the coach and that Naismith suggested to Yost that he give the big kid a trial. Another tale is that Yost invited Naismith to watch a practice, had the hulking Krebs prowl the sideline, and Krebs wound up on the football team — at Naismith’s suggestion.
Krebs’s alleged ”inexperience” kept him out of action until the three final games of ’99, when coach Yost turned him loose on Nebraska, Washburn and Missouri. Two Missouri players left on stretchers after clashing with Krebs, who reportedly got $300 for the victories. He then disappeared and wasn’t heard from again until 1934 when Phog Allen invited him back as a guest for the KU-MU football game. He’s on KU’s official letterman roster.
Asked about his never-there status for classwork, Krebs said he came to KU to play football, not acquire an education. Yet Krebs and Yost did a fantastic job educating opponents about how to win big-time. Yost’s career record for KU, Michigan et al. was 197-35-12. Not sure where Krebs wound up but you can see his handsome face in the back row, far right, of an 1899 team photo on page 183 of the current KU media guide.
• May this be the very merriest Christmas you ever have had. Some critics will insist the greeting should be “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings.” Let them get their own holidays. I’m an intractable dinosaur.
So Merry Christmas!!!!! And may 2010 be one helluva great year for you all. Lord knows we need such.