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Utah State football: Aggie offense now in hands of quarterback guru David Yost

Published April 7, 2017 10:54 pm

Utah State football • New coordinator aims to get USU's attack to rock 'n' roll.
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Logan • When you see David Yost's tall, thin build and the floppy, shoulder-length blond hair, the first two guesses about his profession usually are surfer and guitarist in a rock band.

The physical appearance of Utah State's new offensive coordinator may lean more toward Kurt Cobain than Bill Walsh, but his track record is that of a quarterback whisperer. Among his former charges are a Heisman Trophy finalist and multiple NFL quarterbacks, including a top-10 draft pick.

All this from an affable coach who looks like the real-life version of the cartoon character Shaggy from Scooby Doo.

"I've always liked longer hair, and so I grew it out when I was at Missouri," Yost said. "I kind of used it as a signature so people would recognize me. When you stand at high school practices and you get 10 to 12 coaches all standing on the sideline, we're all standing there with a polo shirt on, we all stand there and we look — there are a lot of similarities between everybody.

"This way, when you call a kid or you're talking to him on the phone and you say, 'Hey, I was at your practice.' They're like, 'OK Coach.' You say, 'I'm the one with the long, blond hair.' They're, 'Oh, I remember you, Coach.' It gave me something to kind of differentiate me from the other coaches in that way."

Yost, a 47-year-old Ohio native with 23 years of coaching experience including stints in the Big 12, SEC and Pac-12, has installed his version of the spread offense at Utah State. His task: revive an Aggies unit that last year ranked 11th out of 12 teams in the Mountain West in both scoring offense and total offense.

Last season at the University of Oregon, Yost was quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator for an offense that ranked 20th nationally in passing efficiency. Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert, the first true freshman QB starter for the program since 1983, passed for 1,936 yards and 19 touchdowns with four interceptions in seven starts.

"His expertise in terms of being an offensive coordinator in the systems that he's been around, I thought the mix of that would fit our personnel and our program perfectly at this point," Aggies coach Matt Wells said of hiring Yost. "I also know that he's got a tremendous amount of experience and production at the QB position."

Pinkel's pupil

Gary Pinkel hired Yost as a defensive graduate assistant at the University of Toledo in 1994, after Yost spent six seasons as an assistant for a Tiffin University, a small school in Ohio.

"He was a young guy, but he looked like he got it," Pinkel said. "He has the 'it' factor. He has the intangibles, hard-working, very sincere personality. He's a trusting person. He's very smart, a very bright guy. He wanted to be really successful."

That decision in 1994 started a 19-year working relationship between Yost and Pinkel, who promoted Yost to recruiting coordinator and quarterbacks coach after two years at Toledo. When Pinkel took over at Missouri in 2001, he brought Yost with him as quarterbacks coach.

During his time with Pinkel at Missouri, Yost added the titles of offensive coordinator and eventually assistant head coach. While together, the duo built a record-setting offense in 2008, helped Missouri to eight bowl game appearances while Yost developed a succession of QBs who later played in the NFL, including Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert.

"He's a wealth of knowledge," Pinkel said. "I mean, look what he's done. Look at the people he develops. What he'll do [at Utah State] — he'll run the offensive scheme they want to run, and he'll adjust at quarterback to whatever his skills are."

Yost, who had turned down opportunities to leave for more lucrative jobs, stepped down in December 2012 and cited burnout as a reason. Yost and his wife, Carrie, have a daughter, Kennedy, and two sons, Keaton and Kamden. Amid the numerous job titles he'd attained on Missouri's staff, Yost said he wasn't doing good enough at his other two jobs — husband and father.

While Pinkel admits he tried to talk Yost out of the decision, Pinkel respected it and the two have remained friends.

"He loves players," Pinkel said. "He gets along with kids really well. He's just very smart, attentive to detail, creative. Really, he's got no limitations at all. I'm just being honest with you. He's just a very talented guy. [Utah State] is very fortunate to have a guy like that."

Back in the saddle

Yost resurfaced at Washington State the next season as an assistant, working solely with inside receivers. He spent three seasons there before going to Oregon. After Yost and the rest of the Ducks staff was fired at the end of the 2016 season, Utah State hired Yost in December.

"He's just trying to score touchdowns. That's good in my book," junior wide receiver Ron'quavion Tarver said. "He wants to be the best offense, not only in the Mountain West, [but] in the nation."

Aggies senior quarterback Kent Myers said at the start of spring practice that he liked throwing the ball more often, and he was encouraged that Yost had worked with various types of quarterbacks.

"Him going to Washington State with Mike Leach and then going to Oregon," Myers said. "I've always liked Oregon's offense when I was small — the tempo. Chase Daniels, he's from my area. I'm from Dallas. He's from Southlake. Having that guy that has coached somebody that is my height, 5-11, and still doing the air-raid. He knows kind of how I can see in the pocket and different things that I can fix."

Yost has an understanding of what it takes to play quarterback at the Division I level, but his biggest asset is probably his ability to build relationships with players. He has a sense for what makes his quarterbacks tick — where they struggle and what sets them apart. That's crucial because Yost's offensive philosophy boils down to one rule: Build around your quarterback's strengths.

"I try never to sit in a meeting and talk about what they can't do," Yost said. "We figure out what can they do, and we're going to lean that way and try to put them in that position as much as possible. … If you're dealing with a guy who has an unbelievable arm and doesn't run as well, then guess what? The offense kind of leans that direction. If you have a great runner who can also throw, then you want to use that to his advantage."

After spring practices end, the staff will evaluate how the offense practiced to hammer out their scheme before preseason camp begins. That's when the Aggies expect to have a clearer sense of the team's offensive identity.

"Toward the end of two-a-days, you kind of say this is who we are, this is what we are, this is what we can kind of hang our hat on," Yost said. "A lot of that has to do with what your quarterback can handle and what your O-line can handle."

Whether choosing a haircut or building an offense, Yost focuses on the big picture.


Twitter: @LWorthySports —

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