Ex-Cat Yeast catching on as coach

Craig Yeast played two years (1995 and '96) for the University of Kentucky, when Bill Curry's offense hugged the ground with a fervor.

Back then, a Wildcats receiver was a football version of Mr. Lonely.

Yeast then played two years (1997 and '98) at UK, when Hal Mumme's attack filled skies throughout the South with footballs.

In the Air Raid, Yeast became one of the most prolific pass catchers ever to wear Kentucky blue.

Now the day has come when Yeast gets to call his own football plays. The former UK star was named offensive coordinator last week at Marion County High School in Lebanon.

So which approach — by land or by air — do you think the guy who caught 155 passes from Tim Couch in his final two college seasons will favor?

"He'll spread the field and throw it all over the place," Alvis Johnson, who coached Yeast at the old Harrodsburg High, said with a laugh. "Coach Mumme ruined him."

Actually, Yeast said people might be surprised.

"I'm not really a pass-happy guy," he said. "My philosophy is to run the football, then throw it when you want to throw it, not when you have to throw it."

With all due respect to Felix Wilson, Derek Abney and Keenan Burton, I've never seen a more electric wideout play at UK than Yeast.

Think back to 1997, and you can still see the 5-foot-9 mighty mite darting into the end zone in overtime with the touchdown reception that beat Alabama.

The following season, Yeast put a buzz into The Swamp with one of the best individual performances in Kentucky football history. Against the mighty Gators, he scored three TDs on receptions of 97 and 74 yards plus a 100-yard kickoff return.

By the time Yeast was done, there was steam lifting off the Head Ball Coach's visor. This even though Florida still won the game 51-35.

"He was not very happy that day," Yeast said, laughing, of Steve Spurrier.

After leaving UK, Yeast was a fourth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. He played three seasons in the NFL, two in Cincy, one with the New York Jets, then played four more years in the Canadian Football League.

Back in his college heyday, Yeast said, he did not necessarily have coaching on his radar.

But as his pro playing days wound down, he found his mind turning more and more to thoughts of being a coach.

"Once I finished playing, I realized I still wanted to have something to do with the game," Yeast said. "As a result, I've picked up coaching."

Last season, Yeast helped out at Lincoln County High, coaching wide receivers (of course) and defensive backs.

When Marion County offensive coordinator Corey Crume was named head coach at Louisville's Southern High School for the 2009 season, Marion Coach Jeff Robbins said his first instinct was to assume the offensive coordinator's mantle himself.

"Then we played Lincoln County in a 7-on-7 league this summer, and I was really impressed with Craig, the way he worked with kids," Robbins said. "We had brought him in once a couple of years before to work with our receivers a little bit, so I was already comfortable with him."

Donald Smith, who like Yeast is a former Harrodsburg football star, was recently named Marion County superintendent. But Yeast said Smith played little role in wooing him.

In Lebanon, Yeast does have the aid of someone he knew from college.

Anthony Epps, star of Marion's 1993 basketball state champions and starting point guard on Kentucky's 1996 NCAA Tournament winners, will help Yeast coach the Knights' offensive skill players.

"He's been a big part of helping me get acclimated," Yeast said.

My suggestion: With the two ex-Cats, Marion needs to forget playing football with students and instead challenge other schools to games among the coaching staffs.

In addition to his football duties, Yeast, 32, a married father of two, will also work as a teacher's aide and assistant track coach at Marion County.

"With me actually working in the school, this is the opportunity to see if this is really what I want to do," Yeast said of high school coaching.

Marion County has 10 offensive starters (every one but the quarterback) returning from a 9-3 team that went to the second round of the Class 4A playoffs last season. So Yeast should have the material to make an offense go.

Even if his plan of attack won't necessarily be as pass-happy as you would expect from a guy who made his name in an Air Raid.