Probably the happiest and most relaxed man in Cambridge right now is John M. Yovicsin, who completed his fifth--and best--season as Harvard's head football coach with the 27-0 victory over Yale last Saturday.
Certain to be elected Coach of the Year in New England, Yovicsin can sit down with pride and look back on this year's Cinderella team, which came from nowhere and finished with a 0-1 Inal Ivy record to tie for the championship with Columbia.
In August, when nobody expected the Crimson to finish higher than sixth, Yovicsin had very little to say for the varsity. "We have problems, but we have hope," he told the press noncommittally.
Skeptics Give Up Hope
Everybody soon became convinced--after Harvard had lost to Lehigh, Colgate, and Columbia early in the season--that the varsity had problems. After the 26-14 loss to the Lions in the fourth contest, however, nobody believed that there was any hope left.
The Columbia game left everyone with the feeling that the gloomy pre-season predictions would be right. A few nasty letters from irate alumni trickled into the CRIMSON and into Yovicsin's office, and many observers sat back in anticipation of one of Harvard's worst seasons in years.
But it was just at that time when Yovicsin became encouraged. "The turning point of this season came at halftime in the Columbia game," he declares. "We were beaten in the first half of that game. In the second half, we played good, consistent football and made very few mistakes. We proved that we could play with the best."
At halftime Yovicsin had told the team to "forget about the score. Don't think ahead of the next play; just concentrate on doing your assignments well. Don't make any mistakes; take pride in your personal performance and your team's performance. We have worked too hard too long to be playing like this. All of our hard work is being wasted."
After the second half of the Columbia game, "I knew that we could play good, steady football," Yovicsin relates.
Victory Boosts Morale
And after the 21-15 victory over Dart-mouth the following week, he "felt that we could go the rest of the way undefeated. When I recalled the records of past teams at Harvard, however, I knew that steady, week-in and week-out performances were rare. Therefore, I didn't set my sights too high; I just kept reminding the team to concentrate on each play and each game as it came, and to take pride in playing good, flaw-less football."
This is the attitude which gave the Crimson eleven, for the first time in years, an emotional and psychological consistency. The team did not let down for the remaining contests with Penn, Princeton, Brown, and Yale, winning five consecutive games for the longest Crimson winning streak since 1946.
And this is the attitude which led to Yovicsin's remarkable coaching accomplishment this year. "Getting the boys up for every game is more difficult at Harvard than at most places," he notes. "The academic pressures--hour exams, labs, and papers--make it hard for a boy to concentrate on football with the same amount of intensity each week. Every year my staff and I have fought to overcome this problem."
Why was Yovicsin so successful this year, leading his team through five straight victories in the difficult last-half of the season? Because "we had an outstanding group of seniors that convinced the team that we were going to have a winning ball club no matter what.
"These seniors realized what the coaches wanted from the squad. They never gave up, and their actions spoke louder than my words. They took over and transmitted a winning attitude to the sophomores and juniors, both on the field and off."
'Seniors, Take Over'
"Did they convince the coaches during the depressions in the early part of the season that the team was going to be a winning squad?" Yovicsin was asked. "I'm sure that they did," he admitted. "Their continual optimism and reassurances that 'It'll come, coach,' helped me very much."
Is it any wonder that Yovicsin can't stop praising his 17 seniors? And why he spent most of his pre-game instructions on strategy, leaving much of the emotional and psychological preparations up to these seniors? Before every game this year, Yovicsin ended his chalk talks with three simple but vital words: "Seniors, take over." He would leave the locker room, and the seniors would communicate with the team as only they knew how.
Certainly this is one of the major reasons why Yovicsin today feels "just terrific. You don't know how happy I am."