Remembered as a respected colleague, coach, and player, former Boston College football head coach Joe Yukica died on Jan. 22 at the age of 90. Yukica dedicated his life to football, serving as a Division I head coach for 21 seasons and later founding the New Hampshire chapter of the National Football Foundation (NFF) in 1987.
“More than anything, coach Yukica was a football guy,” Jay Fallon, president of the New Hampshire chapter of the NFF, said.
When Barry Gallup, BC’s senior associate athletics director for football and alumni relations, thinks about Yukica, he thinks about professionalism.
“He wore a shirt and tie to work,” Gallup said. “You don’t see that nowadays.”
Yukica began his college football career as a tight end at Penn State under former head coach Rip Engle. Upon his graduation, Yukica stayed on as a coach for Penn State’s freshman football team before working with a number of high school and college football programs, including as an assistant coach under Bob Blackman at Dartmouth for five seasons.
In 1966, Yukica became head coach at New Hampshire for two years and was named the New England Coach of the Year during his second season.
Two years later, Yukica, who was inducted into the BC’s Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 2000, accepted the head coaching position at BC and immediately hired six assistants, including Bill Bowes, Pete Carmichael, John Anderson, and Jack Bicknell. At the time, BC had just completed two consecutive losing seasons, finishing 4–6 under then–head coach Jim Miller.
Yukica was critical to turning the program around and establishing BC as a football school, Gallup said.
“He set the foundation for the future,” Gallup said. “BC was struggling financially in the ’70s. … We were a regional school … [which] doesn’t help, you know, your recruiting nationally and things like that. And coach set the foundation—he was there 10 years, he had nine winning seasons. I think he had, you know, a lot of guys go on [to] the National Football League, and a lot of guys have been very successful when their careers are over.”
While Yukica’s contributions on the field speak for themselves, Gallup said he admired Yukica for his character, referring to him as a teacher.
“He was definitely a teacher, but he wasn’t a screamer and hollerer,” Gallup said. “He had a presence about him. He was a professional. He was a mentor because he led by example, and he was a very professional type of person.”
Fallon, who said he attended several NFF meetings with Yukica, said that when Yukica walked into a room, you could tell he was a leader.
“He had a commanding presence—a true leadership presence,” Fallon said. “He was the acknowledged expert in the room based on his history. And not an overbearing presence, not an overwhelming presence, certainly not an egotistical presence, but a calming presence of confidence and competence in whatever it was he was doing.”
Dartmouth head football coach Buddy Teevens, who played under Yukica during his senior season when Yukica took over as the head coach at Dartmouth in 1978, spoke to his knowledge and mentorship as a coach.
“He was great to me,” Teevens said. “He let me call my own plays, which was unusual. He helped me understand the game in a way that I had not been exposed to.”
Yukica went on to lead the Big Green to an Ivy League Championship in his first season at Dartmouth in 1978, finishing the season 6–3 overall and 6–1 in conference play.
“It was a wonderful transition to what could have been a real difficult situation,” Teevens said. “Guys believed, and he was just really good in terms of his attitude and his approach. … And we just kept winning, a band of no-names, because nobody was really the top star in the league. … Running through was one of the biggest highlights of all of our seniors’ careers.”
Teevens took over as Dartmouth’s head coach in 1990, and said that he takes inspiration from Yukica in his own coaching style.
“I’d call him, not often, for a little bit of advice,” he said. “He was always very thoughtful. … He’d think deeply about things. He wouldn’t answer right off the bat. He’d kind of mull it over, and then you could see his mind working, and then he’d come out with something that was just direct, on point, and very, very helpful.”
But more than anything, Teevens said he remembers Yukica’s demeanor.
“He set the course [with] his enthusiasm, his energy, his sense of humor.” Teevens said. “He just made it light. He’d laugh on the sideline and throw out a one-liner on occasion—just kept us loose but focused.”
After Yukica’s coaching career ended, he never left the game of football. He founded the New Hampshire chapter of the NFF, which was later renamed the Joe Yukica New Hampshire Chapter.
The mission of the chapter, according to Fallon, is to promote amateur football in New Hampshire, and Gallup said the impact of the foundation on the sport as a whole is tremendous.
Teevens said that Yukica’s impact will continue to impact young athletes for years to come.
“When he retired from coaching, he still had more to give,” Fallon said. “And what he did was … he gathered a coalition of like-minded football people to establish and charter a National Football Foundation [chapter] for the state of New Hampshire.”
Gallup said that Yukica went to a Darmouth-Princeton game this fall, just a few months before his death, with Greg Stewart, BC ’79, and Tom Lynch, BC ’77. At 90 years old, Yukica was as enamored with the game just as much as he was at the height of his career in the ’70s, Gallup said.
He showed up to the game in a shirt and tie.
“Almost like he was coaching,” Gallup said.
Featured Graphic by Annie Corrigan / Heights Editor