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Original Issue

Head coach, prewar model

Adolf Hitler, Amelia Earhart and Joe Louis were making news when Alex Yunevich took over at Alfred University in 1937. He is still there

Alfred's first-string fullback—Alfred's 5'7", 175-pound first-string fullback—approached the visitor. "Have you been to some of the big schools?" the fullback asked.

"Sure," he was told.

"I was just wondering, are they much different from us?"

Not at all, the visitor thought, as he watched the team's field-goal specialist loft another kick toward the practice field's nonexistent goalposts. Take away the scholarships, the tackling dummies, the jock dorms, the assistant coaches, the huge stadiums, the playbooks, the four-team depth at every position, the pressure to win—and the big schools are not at all different from this tiny university in New York's picturesque but poor Allegany County.

This is football as it is played in Division III of the NCAA. Where Hobart is the biggest rival. Where 5,000 fans is a full house. Where the only player to make it in the pros lasted three years with the Chicago Cardinals and later operated Goble's Mobil in Waverly, N.Y. But most of all, this is football as dimple-cheeked, bulldog-faced Alex Yunevich would have it. And Alex has had it this way since 1937. When he went off to war for four years, Alfred just stopped playing.

Alex Yunevich of Bicknell, Ind., is the son of a Lithuanian coal miner whose real name, Janivicius, was lost forever through a clerical error in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Ol' Alex, All-Big Ten fullback on Purdue's unbeaten conference champions of 1929, whose 90-yard run against Centenary in 1931 is still the longest in Boilermaker history.

No active coach matches Yunevich's record of continuous service at one school. Only three have won more games. In three years at what is now Central Michigan and 33 at Alfred, 64-year-old Alex Yunevich has won 65% of his games and endured only six losing seasons.

And this is how it all came to pass: "I was All-State two years in high school. Those 145-pound kids tried to tackle me and I just laughed. I played baseball, too. I had a 10-day trial with the Cincinnati Reds in Keokuk, Iowa but I only lasted three days. I had knocked more balls into the White River than you could shake a stick at. I was the Babe Ruth of Knox County. But when they started throwing sliders in Keokuk it was all over.

"A lot of schools wanted me for football. Georgia guaranteed me a law degree. I should have taken it, because I ended up a jock. My parish priest said, 'Go to Notre Dame.' I tell you, those padres were the best recruiters in the world. But I was going to take the best offer and I got it, brother.

"The corn was sticking out of my ears when I got to Purdue. But those were good years. We won two Big Ten titles, and I met my wife Anne. She was the landlord's daughter. A guy broke my nose twice in one quarter against Wisconsin, but I nailed him later. Got him with a shoulder right in his hip.

"I stayed on at Purdue after graduation to help coach the 'B' team. That's when I decided I didn't want the pressure of the big time. We beat some team a couple of touchdowns when everybody else was beating them by four. And the people came and criticized me. I was the low man on the totem pole and they criticized me, the backfield coach. I said right then this isn't going to be my way of life. I told Anne I didn't want the rat race.

"I was an assistant coach at Lehigh the next year and then I got my first head coaching job at Central State Teachers College. I didn't like it there. It was a bad situation. So when I was recommended for the job here at Alfred I took it. Alfred hadn't scored a point the year before, but I came anyway. We went unbeaten the first year.

"I came here with the idea I wouldn't stay long, but I grew to like it, the smallness, the naturalness. The big time was out, I knew that, and Alfred suited me fine.

"I'd been here five years when the war started. I went into the Navy and was stationed at a submarine base in Brazil. I was a lieutenant commander and I won a citation for the esprit de corps of my men. There wasn't much to do. About the most exciting thing that ever happened was when we got a rumor that Goebbels and Hitler might be passing by on their way to Argentina. I could just see them sitting in my jail, but there wasn't anything to it. After the war I went back to Alfred. Just like Cincinnatus, I left the plow in the field and picked it up when the war was over.

"We continued to do pretty well. We played on Saturday night in those days and we beat everybody. We mesmerized 'em with a few hidden ball plays. Nobody wanted to come down to the pit on Saturday night.

"Then we had three bad years right in a row. Those three years almost destroyed me, Jack. It hurt. I went up to give blood and they wouldn't take it. That really worried me. So I decided que sera, sera, what will be, will be. I began to relax, I realized there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.

"If the milk is spilled, forget it, don't look back. Look ahead to the next week. But if you win, do your rejoicing at the end of the season. We do our crowing at the team banquet. Without this philosophy I wouldn't have lasted.

"We've had some big wins here. We beat Susquehanna in 1964 when we had no right to be on the field with them. They had beaten us the year before 68-0. We went into a game with St. Lawrence once, 40 point underdogs, and we won 45-7. We never lose. Finish second, maybe, but we never lose.

"People only like you if you win, but that's not the way I feel. When your kids are busting their tails, what more can a coach ask? I don't want that moose who's made All-America, anyway. That's not my bag. I like the kid who doesn't know how good he is. When he makes it, I get a charge. You only rake a kid when you have a good one and he's loafing. Generally, I wind up with the kids who are a little short of talent. Goods kids, though; don't get me wrong.

"I'm an individualist. I'm not in the mainstream. I'm a little bit of a hippie in a way, if you understand what I mean. I don't think a lot of the orthodox stuff is right. I don't approve of running the guts out of a team to get them in shape. Games are won with the head and heart. I don't believe in punishing kids on the field. The best punishment is not to play them. I don't believe in board drills or dummies or playbooks or any of those things. I believe you should learn it on the field. Give 'em the basics and keep it simple. I don't believe in slogans, and you won't see us going out on the field and yelling like a bunch of wild men. You skin a cat your own way.

"If I thought my kids would go for the rah-rah stuff, I might try it, but they're too smart. So I don't give them the old 'do-or-die for Rutgers.' I tell them, look, if you don't go out there and get 'em, they'll beat your butt. The generation gap occurs if the youngster doesn't know what you're talking about.

"This is homemade stuff here. I'm the only coach in America without a full-time assistant. When I retire it will be the shock of their lives. The new guy will want some changes made. I think I may coach one more year, but that would be all. I like to fish, play golf, hunt mushrooms. I'm still quick. God gave me that. God should give my players the adrenaline I've got."

Alfred played St. Lawrence Saturday. It was Alex Yunevich's 276th game as head coach, and the team came in second 6-0.