Washington State's George Yarno was truly one-of-a-kind

GEORGE YARNO was a one-of-a-kind player and assistant coach at Washington State. When I heard he had passed away Monday after a lengthy battle with abdominal cancer, two stories immediately came to mind.

The first is well known.  The prickly and impersonal Jackie Sherrill coached all of one year at Washington State. After the 1976 season he told the Cougar players in a team meeting he was leaving for Pittsburgh.  Yarno, then a sophomore d-lineman, stood up and shouted at Sherrill to get the bleep out.   Sherrill left.

The second involves former Cougar center Josh Duin, who walked on at WSU, earned a scholarship and became a starter under Yarno.

One day before practice Duin was out on the field early, the only other person around was his o-line coach.  When Yarno caught Duin looking at him, he barked out, "What the hell are you looking at?"

"Nothing, what the hell are you looking at?" Duin replied.

"About 10 pounds of **** stuffed into a 5-pound bag," Yarno fired back.

THE LOVE Cougar players had for Yarno ran deep.   A plethora of o-linemen long since removed from their college playing days still rang him up on a regular basis --  there were some days 3-4 former pupils would call.

Duin told me years ago that Robbie Tobeck, who played under Yarno during his first coaching stint at WSU from 1991-94 and went on to become a two-time Super Bowl starter and Seahawks Pro Bowler, was still making a weekly phone call to Yarno 15 years after Yarno had last coached him on the field.

And Yarno's influence wasn't limited to just the offensive linemen. Cougar wide receiver Jason Hill (2003-06) said he found himself gravitating toward Yarno during practices, listening to and watching him coach.

YARNO WAS FROM one of the first families of Inland Empire football. His jersey has been retired at Ferris High. Between him, his brother, his dad and his uncle, the Yarno name has been in and around the Spokane grid scene since the 1940s.

And the competitive spirit burned bright. Yarno once told's Greg Witter how his older brother John, an Idaho All-American, didn't talk to him for several months after he chose WSU. The two went head to head - literally - in the 1975 game which the Cougs won 84-27. In the years since, George said he never let John forget that for a single moment.

Yarno was a two-time All-Pac-10 conference selection as a nose tackle at Washington State, and then spent 11 years in the NFL as an offensive lineman and deep-snapper, playing in 136 games with 73 starts. During his NFL tenure, he played every position on the offensive line.

He took up coaching after his playing days and his first stop was as the o-line coach on Mike Price’s staff. He became Idaho's offensive coordinator in 1995, followed by stints in Houston, Arizona State and LSU before rejoining the Cougars in 2003.

After Bill Doba's staff was dismissed following the 2007 season, Yarno returned to the NFL, this time as a coach, with stops at Tampa Bay, Detroit and Jacksonville. His 24-year coaching career came to a close in 2014 to receive treatment for stage IV abdominal cancer.

Yarno is survived by his wife, Cynthia, sons Josh and George Jr., and daughter Adrienne.  He was 58.

"Do you think a tiger stops looking at a zebra when he's chasing it? No!  It's always got its eyes on its FOOD!"
- George Yarno in the meeting room, coaching his o-linemen to keep their eyes right

"A lot of people think Coach Yarno is this really intense guy who likes to yell because they see that at the games -- but when you're in Pullman and you're away from your family, George is like a father to you. If you don't have somewhere to go on Thanksgiving, he invites you over. If you need to talk, you can go sit in his office. In the years that I was there, he did everything he could to help me grow on the football field and personally. He's really treated me like a son of his, and he has respect for all of his players. He truly wants to see you do as good as you can both on AND off the field. And that's rare."
- Josh Duin (WSU o-lineman, 2003-2006)

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