Moose Lake coach Robert “Bob” Youso passed away this past year, leaving his mark on 31 seasons of high school sports
BY JAKE KACHINSKE / August, 2008
As the 2008 high school football season gets underway for Moose Lake-Willow River, the most-decorated head coach in the program’s history will not be roaming the sidelines for the first time in five decades, either as a coach or spectator.
Robert “Bob” Youso, who coached the team for 31 seasons from 1959 to 1989, died earlier this year of cancer. He was 75.
Those who followed his instruction, both on the court and field and in the classroom, would probably agree with Youso’s philosophy: “In every facet of life, be prepared both physically and mentally, and hard work and practice can only lead to success in the end.” Most certainly that “mind over matter” way of thinking would bode well for Youso in 31 seasons on the football field, 14 on the girls’ basketball court, and 32 years in the classroom.
Born in International Falls, Minnesota, on April 18, 1933, Youso graduated from his hometown high school in 1951, where he played pigskin and hoops. Playing sports was and still is a way of life for the Youso family. His kids played sports. His grandkids play sports, and even his extended family excels in sports, with great nephew, Jake, starring recently for the International Falls hockey team. Some may even remember Bob’s brother, Frank, played in the NFL.
The decade after graduating from high school would turn out to be a worldwide venture for Bob. In the fall of 1951, he played a few football games for Concordia-Moorhead before enlisting in the Navy. “He didn’t know what he wanted to do, so he went into the Navy.” Bob’s wife of 51 years, Lynn, recalls. “He went to Japan and played football there, too.”
Following the four-year stint in the Navy, Bob returned to the states in 1955, where he played center for the University of Minnesota for two seasons. It would be during that time in the Twin Cities when he met his wife, Lynn. “I remember he, his brother, and some other of his friends came to this house-warming party I was at in February (1956). I don’t know if they were supposed to be there, but there they were. It all took off from there, and Bob and I were married six months later,” said Lynn. Their first son, Steve, was born in 1957.
After being convinced by his former coach at Concordia, he went back to Moorhead to play his final two seasons of college football, where he started and earned All-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference status in 1958. Following graduation from Concordia-Moorhead, the Yousos moved to Moose Lake, where Bob took a job teaching social studies and history, and Lynn started a nursing career.
Bob’s first season as Moose Lake head football coach was a 4-3 campaign in 1959. His first coaching victory came against Floodwood, a 12-0 shutout. A junior that season for the Lakers, Dean Paulson reminisces, “He made you work. He had the famous conditioning ‘crabs.’ He was very serious out there on the football field. We played grind-it-out football, with very few passes.”
One season years later, Youso thought he may have been working his players too hard with the crab exercises, so he got rid of them. “It was his worse season ever. They went 1-8,” said Lynn Youso. The next season, the crabs made their return to the practice regimen.
After his first season as Moose Lake Laker head football coach, son Mike was born. Bob and Lynn’s daughter, Patty, was born in 1965. “Patty was born the morning of a football game day, and Bob left to coach that night,” Lynn recalls. “I never missed many games, maybe five at the most, but this was an exception. He was there when all our kids were born.”
A year later in 1966, Youso’s Lakers won the District 25 championship with a win over Lindstrom/Center City.
A win over that same team ten years later would provide quite possibly the biggest disappointment the Laker/Rebel football program has ever experienced.
It was 1976 and the playoff layout was different back then, with a ranking and points system determining who went to the state tournament, a system comparable to today’s B.C.S. rankings in college football. The Lakers went undefeated at 10-0 that season, but failed to qualify for the state tournament by the smallest of margins.
Rory Butkiewicz was a senior on that team. “We were on our way back from a game down south, and we didn’t know at that time if we had made it [to state]. It was a disappointment to find out the news when we got back to the school.”
Butkiewicz looks back on that team. “It was probably one of the last of the ‘farm boys’ teams. You didn’t screw around when it came to Coach Youso. He was a good coach. There was plenty of physical work involved. I think that’s what made us successful. We were always prepared. He gained our respect.”
Sometimes Youso became the butt of the team’s jokes. “I remember one day after practice, a few of us Split Rock players lifted his Volkswagen between two parking posts,” said Butkiewicz, “enough where it made it impossible for him to move it back or forth. I don’t think he was too happy about that. We had to lift it out of there. It took a strong bunch of guys to be able to do that.”
The undefeated 1976 season carried into the 1977 campaign, until a 23-7 loss to Henderson in the State Class B playoffs. It was the only state football tournament appearance in Youso’s 31 years of coaching the team. Lynn Youso commented, “I think he was disappointed about not making it in ’76, but he got over things quickly. He thought all his teams were good. He looked at the glass as half full and was always preparing for that next game.”
Away from coaching, Bob Youso’s free time was spent fishing, hunting and spending time with his family and friends. “We would talk a lot at the dinner table to get caught up,” said Lynn Youso. “It was always busy with the kids in sports, I was working, and he [Bob] had practice after school, then he would drive some of the players home after that, so there were some late nights.”
Longtime friend Bill Zellman, who was the public address announcer at Laker football games for years, recalls a vacation with Youso from years back. “We were fishing at Lake of the Woods, and Bob said before the trip that he was going to quit smoking, so he didn’t bring any cigarettes along. One morning, we all awoke to a loud motor. It was Bob boating away, trying to find a place that had cigarettes. He could also fillet one fish quicker than you could fillet three.”
Sentimentally speaking, Zellman said, “He was one of the greatest friends I ever had. He was a super guy. He truly loved his kids, family and friends.”
Other fishing and hunting excursions were spent with son Mike, “Doc” Henry, Carl Halverson, Clarence “Carpet” Carlson, Harry Solheim, and Frank Romanoski, among many other family members and friends.
Coach Youso takes over the girls basketball program
Late in 1976, Bob Youso added to his coaching resume by taking over for Kathy Fredricksen as Moose Lake’s girls basketball head coach. Fredricksen also coached the volleyball team, which won the state title the year before. It was the first state championship in school history for any sport. “Our coaching styles were different,” Kathy said. “He was more of the vocal type than I was. Despite the differences, the results were still the same in the end.”
The results were winning seasons and championships for the Lady Laker athletes in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The volleyball, girls basketball and softball teams in Moose Lake went to 11 out of a possible 12 state tournaments between 1979 and 1982 and won six state titles. The run included four consecutive appearances at the state tournament for Youso’s girls basketball team.
Sue (Doherty) Caroline played for Youso on the first two state tournament teams. “He drove the bus down there in 1979. I think he was nervous, but he never showed it. He had a gruff exterior, but if you got through that, you found a nice man on the inside. His coaching style would definitely not work in today’s world.”
Youso’s football style of coaching often followed him to the basketball court. For instance, in 1980 a letter to the editor was written to a Duluth newspaper by some Greenway fans criticizing his disciplinarian coaching style and his treatment of the players.
The pinnacle of Youso’s girls basketball coaching career came in the spring of 1982 when his Lakers edged East Chain 52-49 in overtime to win the Class A championship. The Moose Lake girls teams of 1981-82 won the “Triple Crown” of state championships, going undefeated in volleyball, girls basketball and softball. The 1982 girls basketball state tournament appearance was the third to last state berth for a Laker sports team, before Moose Lake combined with Willow River in 1984 to become the Rebels.
Coaching tenure comes to a close
On a late October night in 1989 during the Section 7B playoffs, Bob Youso reached a rare accomplishment in the world of coaching football: he achieved his 200th victory. It was his next-to-last game as coach, a 39-8 win over Braham at home. It was a night of celebration as Youso was presented a game ball by Superintendent Dick Burro and rode off the field in a limousine. Youso’s next game later that week was not as celebratory. A loss to rival Esko ended a 31-year football coaching career at 200 wins, 78 losses and three ties. Youso’s teams won 12 conference championships during that time and also made the one state tournament appearance in 1977.
Youso also stepped down as girls basketball coach after that school year, having coached that team for 14 seasons. Phil Jensen was named football coach the next year, and Don Stebbins became the girls basketball coach. Youso still remained as athletic director and head golf coach until 1991, when he retired. (It should be mentioned that Youso also led Moose Lake to its only golf state tournament in 1980, a sixth place finish.) Longtime football assistant and next-door neighbor, Lee Athey, took over the golf coaching duties the next year, while Kathy Fredricksen became the athletic director.
Just a month before his retirement, Youso was enshrined into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in an April 19th, 1991 ceremony.
The transition from school life to retirement was an easy one for Youso. Days were spent in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, painting, and a bit of wood crafting – at least in the beginning. He got all the tools, the jigsaw, and a few other things, mentioned Lynn. “He made kitchen knife holders and those poles that hold newspapers for all the kids, but that was about it. He didn’t do much woodwork after that.”
On August 7, 2007, Bob learned he had cancer. “He didn’t talk much about it,” Lynn shared. “He thought he would beat it, just like he was winning another football or basketball game – again, a glass half-full approach.”
The cancer took his life nine months later. In an ironic twist, it was the week of the Minnesota fishing opener. The lake is where you most likely would have found Youso that Saturday; instead, family and friends were celebrating his life and many accomplishments at a church in downtown Moose Lake. On the day of his funeral, his one-time next door neighbor in Moose Lake, David Athey, eulogized him: “Some people called him ‘The Growl.’ I never heard him actually growl, but he did seem to have his own language. I think he knew the same language as sailors. Mr.Youso became a legend. Like General George Patton, Bear Bryant and Grizzly Adams all combined. He was also like Mother Teresa. This was a side that some people never saw. But seriously, if you ever needed any kind of help, he was always there.”
On a personal note, I was never one of Bob’s players on the field or court; I was a student of his and became a student of life – life lessons taught to me in an eighth-grade geography classroom. I didn’t run through a defensive line or shoot a three-pointer for Coach Youso, but you could rest assured I knew my state capitals. You couldn’t miss his IZOD polo shirts with the little alligator sewn on them, his button-up sweaters, or the occasional words “bonehead” or “dumb-dumb” – terms of endearment, I guess, for his players and students.
Coach Youso taught in the classroom like he enforced the sidelines: with passion and determination. If you did the work, you reaped the rewards. Couldn’t we all benefit from that mindset at least once in our lives?
It worked for Bob Youso.