From 12 seasons as a professional player to 25 years as one the game’s respected molders of offensive linemen, an ethic of work, passion and tough-mindedness allowed George Yarno to forge a remarkable career in football – one he put on hold three years ago to fight a rare form of stomach cancer.
That fight came to an end Monday, when the Ferris High School and Washington State graduate died at the age of 58 in Spokane.
The announcement came from the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, who kept him on staff even after he left the team to seek medical treatment in 2014.
“Coach Yarno’s loyal friendship and his infectious passion for coaching football were two of the many reasons he was so well-liked and well-respected,” the Jaguars organization said in a statement. “The entire Jaguars family was touched by his energy and he will be missed by all that had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Through three stays at Washington State – as a player, then twice as an assistant coach – Yarno’s driven, detailed approach set a standard for both teammates he played alongside and players under his critical eye. That determination was reflected in his response when he was blindsided by discovery of tumors in his abdomen in 2014, prompting him to return to Spokane for treatment and to be with his family, including wife Cynthia, daughter Adrianne and son Josh. His other son, George Jr., recently returned to the area, taking the head football coaching position at Sandpoint High School.
“I think my background in football – being goal-oriented and hard-working – really did help me,” Yarno said in an interview last fall. “I kind of take it one day at a time and attack what I need to attack that day.
“And the number of people who reached out with support helped so much. I’ve really been humbled by that.”
In October, Yarno reported no cancer had been detected in tests for six months, and that his weight was back to 250 – after he’d lost 35 pounds after surgery and initial chemotherapy treatments.
And he kept his hand in with the Jaguars as a consultant – “though what they told me is my job was to get well,” he said. “They ask my opinion once in a while, but mostly they’ve been supporting me. They’ve been great.”
For Yarno, the football journey started as a two-way lineman at Ferris, where he earned All-Greater Spokane League honors as a senior before enrolling at WSU.
For the Cougars, his impact was immediate. He cracked the starting lineup as a freshman in 1975, including against Idaho, where he lined up across from his brother John, the Vandals’ center, for the first of two times in the Battle of the Palouse. He then settled in as a full-time starter on the defensive line for the next three seasons, and was selected to the All-Pac-10 second team as a senior.
He went unselected in the 1979 NFL draft, but signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay. Asked to move to the offensive line, Yarno became a fixture with the Bucs for the next eight seasons – interrupted briefly when he and his brother took detour and signed with the rival USFL in 1984. Yarno played for two seasons with the Denver Gold before returning to the Bucs, and then finished off his NFL career with stops at Atlanta, Houston and Green Bay.
In all, he played in 135 NFL games, with 73 starts, and appeared in the 1979 NFC title game with Tampa Bay.
Only months retired, he was hired by Mike Price to coach the offensive line at WSU and served on the staffs for two bowl teams before taking the offensive coordinator’s position at Idaho under Chris Tormey in 1995. Stops at Houston, Arizona State and LSU followed, but he left a Top 25 program in Baton Rouge when Bill Doba asked him to rejoin the WSU staff in 2003.
“I’m a Cougar,” he said at the time, “and you have that special feeling being a Cougar.”
Doba’s dismissal in 2007 sent him back into the NFL and a job with the Bucs, followed by four years on the staff of the Detroit Lions. He joined the Jaguars when former Seahawks assistant Gus Bradley came on as head coach in 2013, but coached just one season before his cancer diagnosis.
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