Bill Yoast, a former high school football coach portrayed in the 2000 film “Remember the Titans” as an opponent of racism and a savvy on-field tactician, died Thursday at age 94 at an assisted living facility in Springfield, Va., his daughter Dee Dee Fox confirmed. No cause of death was provided.
Yoast coached at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, Va., from 1971 to 1996. He also coached track and field and golf in addition to football, where he led the Titans’ defense. The story of the team’s 1971 undefeated state championship season inspired the movie, in which Denzel Washington played head coach Herman Boone and Will Patton played Yoast.
That year, the Alexandria school district consolidated its three high schools — T.C. Williams, Francis Hammond and George Washington — sending the upperclassmen to T.C. Williams and converting the other two into junior high schools.
Yoast, who had a successful run at Hammond, was the favorite to win the job at T.C. Williams, but school officials instead chose Boone, the only African American coach in the area. Yoast agreed to join his staff as the defensive coordinator and principal lieutenant, convincing players from his all-white Hammond squad to go out for what would be an integrated team.
“No doubt, the beginning of our relationship was rocky,” said Boone, who coached the Titans from 1971 to 1979, in a phone interview. “I didn’t know Yoast. Yoast didn’t know me. I knew that Hammond had no black athletes and I didn’t know if coach Yoast had anything to do with that. But we got to [training camp] and became roommates and found a way to talk to one another.
“I think that’s the formula for race relations throughout the world. People have to learn to talk to one another. You have to learn to talk to that individual, and when you talk to that individual, you learn to trust that individual, and that’s the greatest gift God gave to man.”
Players said they made the perfect pairing. Boone was loud and imposing, sometimes abrasive, cursing during practice so much, his wife said she didn’t recognize him during the movie because the screenwriters kept most of his profanity out of the script.
Yoast was placid and stoic. He told players he never cursed or drank. When Boone would holler at players until they reached their breaking point, Yoast would cajole them back to practice. When his defense — still considered one of the fiercest in Virginia high school football history — laid hits on teammates in practice, he made sure to compliment players on the offensive side of the ball.
“He was just so soft-spoken, so concerned and so caring,” Collin Arrington, a fullback on the 1971 team, said in a phone interview. “He was so easy to talk to. You’d look at Coach Boone. He was intimidating. Nobody wanted to talk to him. But Coach Yoast, we all loved him, and we’re going to miss him.”
Yoast is the second member of the ’71 Titans team to die in recent months. Julius Campbell, a defensive end played in the film by Wood Harris, died in January at age 65.
William Yoast was born Nov. 16, 1924, in Florence, Ala., the oldest of two children to a poor family with an absentee father. To help his family make ends meet, he worked as a child picking cotton among sharecroppers, according to his 2005 book “Remember this Titan,” co-authored by Steve Sullivan. He and his father reconciled years later.
After a three-year stint in the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force as an independent branch of the military, and graduating from Georgia Military College, Yoast began teaching and coaching football, basketball, baseball and track in Sparta, Ga. He left for Roswell, 120 miles west, in 1954 after being chastised for allowing a baseball team comprised of black players to use the showers at his high school.
He moved with his third wife, Betty — Dorothy, his second wife, died during childbirth in Sparta — and two daughters to Alexandria in 1960 and became the coach at Hammond in 1965. His 1969 team won the Northern Region championship, and when T.C. Williams needed a new coach, many considered him the obvious choice for the job, compared to Boone, who was an assistant at the school after a successful career as a head coach in North Carolina.
“All of that was politics. I did not get involved then and I don’t like to get involved with politics now,” Boone said. “But my wife woke me up one morning and said, ‘You better read The Washington Post,’ and when I read the paper, it assumed coach Yoast would be the first head coach at T.C. Williams.
"And it wasn’t surprising, because all the head coaches in the area were white. But why would you fight for integration if all the head coaches were white? So I decided to fight, being the only black coach in the area, and I was qualified.”
“I don’t know whether I was more hurt or disappointed,” Yoast told The Post in 1971 during the middle of the Titans’ state championship run. “I wasn’t bitter. I knew Herman and admired him. I guess my pride was the main thing that was hurt.”
Yoast spurned two other head coaching offers in Northern Virginia and coached the Titan defense to nine shutouts in 13 games, including a 27-0 win in the state title game against now-defunct Andrew Lewis High School of Salem.
Said Arrington of practicing against the defense: “It was hell.”
Yoast retired from teaching in 1990. He took up fishing and enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren in his later years in Bethany Beach, Del., and stayed involved with T.C. Williams football when the film came out, finding an enduring audience with sports fans and often visiting the team’s practices. He traveled the country speaking about the Titans’ championship season and overcoming racism.
“In ‘Remember the Titans,’ the story of Herman Boone is remarkable. But what Bill Yoast did was equally remarkable,” said Eric Henderson, who coached at the school during the movie’s heyday. “There were a lot of heroes in that story, but Bill’s acquiesce to the situation and how he fostered healing and united some disparate groups was something to be admired. You have those moments in life where you have to make a decision to do the right thing, and I think he did.”
Yoast is survived by his ex-wife and lifelong friend Betty Yoast, daughters Dee Dee Fox, Angie Garrison of Springfield and Susan Gail Greeson of Fernandina Beach, Fla., nine grandchildren and many more great grandchildren.
Visitation is scheduled for May 31 from 6 to 8 p.m., at Demaine Funeral Home in Springfield. A funeral is set for June 1 at 2 p.m. at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Springfield. The family will hold a private cremation ceremony at a later date.