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Low-Pressure Magician

Faculty Profile

By Frederick W. Byron jr.s

In an era in which thankless jobs abound, perhaps the most thankless--and most precarious-- of all is that of head football coach in an Ivy League college. Caught between the Ivy Towers of intellectualism and the plush clubrooms of old-gradism, the football coach must be something of a magician to endure for any length of time.

Thus when the Corporation announced the appointment of John M. Yovicsin, football coach at Gettysburg College, as the new head coach of football at Harvard, that was considerable surprise and scepticism expressed by various individuals. Yovicsin was a low-pressure type person. He had long since abandoned the glory of professional football for a relatively quiet existence as coach at tiny Gettysburg College. In coming to Harvard, many felt, Yovicsin would find the "big-time" too much to handle. Nothing could have been further from the truth. His low-pressure approach to football and his genuine love of the game appear to have solved the problem of what type of man should be head coach of the Crimson team.

Yovicsin's coaching career goes back to the war years when he taught in a Southern New Jersey high school, coached football there and, practicing nights, played professional football for the Philadelphia Eagles. As Yovicsin puts it, however, "My future was not in pro football, and I wanted very much to stay in the coaching profession. Playing for the Eagles would have kept me away from some of my team's games, so I decided to stop playing." A few years later he returned to Gettysburg, his alma mater, as an assistant coach of football.

Yovicsin enjoyed the quiet life of a coach in a small college and settled down in Gettysburg with hopes to stay there a long time. His family liked the area very much and soon moved into a house which Yovicsin planned himself. His salary was excellent, and he was a member of the faculty with tenure. Yet on March 12 of this year he accepted the position of head coach of football at Harvard.

Just six months earlier, he had discussed with his wife whether or not he should apply for one of the several excellent coaching jobs which were then available. They decided to stay in Gettysburg. Yovicsin did not like the insecure prospect of coach at a school where a coach had to win consistently or lose his job. He preferred to stay where he was.

Yovicsin had long thought, however, that if he were to look for a new coaching job he would want "to move to a school which was part of such a league as the Ivy League. Such a move would be the next step in coaching, and I thought I might like to give it a try," he explains. So when a Harvard representative contacted him about the possibility of moving to Cambridge, he decided to come and meet some University officials and hear just what might be expected of a Harvard football coach. He interpreted the administrative jargon about "good teacher" to mean that he was supposed to give men wanting to play football the fundamentals to do so, a lot of practice, and try to see if his team could turn in a good account of itself in competition.

He and his family of five found New England to their liking; Yovicsin wanted to meet the challenge of fielding a good team under the Ivy League rules. With this settled, the Yovicsin family took up residence in Framingham, and Yovicsin himself undertook the task of transforming Harvard football. The record of that transformation has been evident all fall. After an initial shock when for various personal reasons some key players left the squad, his team has enjoyed playing for him. He asks only that each player work his hardest, and he in turn works hard for them. Players on the junior varsity were given the opportunity this fall to run regular varsity plays and not to mimic plays of the Crimson's Saturday opposition each week.

Early season predictions gave Harvard scant chance to win more than one game, but under Yovicsin's coaching, the Crimson won three of its first six games until injuries cut it down in its last two contests of the year. Yovicsin was "pleased, although naturally not completely pleased. We hoped to have a winning season," he says, "but we are very happy with the progress the boys made."

A heavy schedule of speaking dates at various Harvard Clubs throughout the country and many favorable letters reflect alumni satisfaction with Yovicsin's new approach to Harvard football. But Yovicsin wants to see improvement next year and is certain that a better season will be had in 1958. "It requires a lot of planned work to develop a solid team, but it can be done, and well, in Ivy League. We hope to make it."

Yovicsin's first year has been a remarkable one. He survived the tireless battery of questions from the local press, the scepticism of many, a discouraging wave of injuries which resulted in something of a "jinx" year for the football team, and the demands made from both the Ivy Towers and the clubrooms. Yet he can still smile shyly from behind his desk in the Indoor Athletic Building and say honestly, "I'm certainly looking forward to next year."

He can probably look forward to quite a few years of football at the College. Harvard likes John Yovicsin; and Yovicsin is pleased with his new job at Harvard. He should be around for quite a long time to come.

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