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Mr. Intensity 

by Howie Stalwick

The debate never ends among football players at Washington State. Some players insist that wild-eyed, maniacal screamer Robb Akey, WSU's defensive coordinator, is the craziest man on earth. Other players insist that wild-eyed, maniacal screamer George Yarno, WSU's offensive line coach, is the craziest man on earth.

We'll let offensive tackle Sam Lightbody make the final call because he's a senior, he's highly intelligent, he's extremely thoughtful ... and he's 6-foot-9 and 325 pounds. You don't want to argue with a man who resembles a small building.

"It's definitely Yarno. It's not even close," Lightbody says, shaking his head. "Yarno, I think, would lose his job just to prove a point. I don't think any offensive player is scared of Akey, but I'm sure there's a few defensive players who are scared of Yarno."

A typical Cougar practice features Yarno alternately screaming venom and praise -- spiced up with the occasional naughty word -- at the offensive linemen he coaches, loves and admires.

"In my estimation, it's the hardest position in all of sport. That's why offensive linemen in the NFL make so much money," says Yarno, who sweated his way through an 11-year NFL career on the offensive line after starring at Ferris High School and Washington State in the 1970s.

"You have to be very proud to be an offensive lineman," Yarno says. "You have to take a lot of self-pride in what you do. You only hear about it when you make a mistake; you don't hear anything when you do it right. You have to be proud of beating the man across from you."

Yarno is a big, tough man in charge of big, tough men, and it appears to be an ideal fit. Yarno's intensity and love of the game is legendary at WSU.

"He's a great coach," offensive tackle Calvin Armstrong says. "He's really fun to be with. He yells a lot, but that's just his coaching style."

"I had a coach years ago who told me, 'Enthusiasm is caught, not taught,'" Yarno says. "If you're not excited and ready to go, how can you expect your players to be?"

It doesn't take much to get Yarno excited about coaching: Having the sun rise in the east pretty much does the trick. "Every day I come to work -- I'm just excited to come to practice," Yarno says. "I'm here getting to do what I want to do with my life. I'm in the best situation I've ever been in my life."

Yarno, 47, began his coaching career as the offensive line coach at WSU from 1991-94. He was offensive coordinator at Idaho from 1995-97 and at Houston from 1998-99, then served as offensive line coach at Arizona State in 2000 and at Louisiana State in 2001-02.

When WSU offensive line coach Bob Connelly followed head coach Mike Price to Alabama in January 2003, Yarno was quick to jump on the phone. For the most part, Yarno's family had remained on the family farm outside Moscow since he left Idaho. "We wanted continuity for the kids ... and my wife (a schoolteacher), she really loves what she does, and she loves the area," Yarno explained.

Initially, Yarno admits, his loud and lively coaching style probably made some of WSU's offensive linemen wish he'd stayed far, far away from Pullman. "I think I kinda surprised a couple of 'em the first few practices in spring practice," Yarno says with a laugh.

"We won't be able to change him, so we've kind of adapted to him," Armstrong says. "He yells at you, but only on the football field.

"He never yells at you off the field. He goes back to 'teddy bear mode.' It's kind of funny to watch."

Yarno, the brother of former Idaho and Seattle Seahawks center John Yarno, sees himself as part teacher, part philosopher, part father figure for his players.

"Football is a game of will," he says. "You have to break down your opponent's will. Whoever breaks down their opponent's will wins the football game."

Publication date: 09/02/04

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