Robert Yonto remembers going to basketball games at the Joyce Center after the smoking ban was put in place. He’d glance up toward the press box and see two white clouds dispersing into the higher air of the dome. One, he knew, came from the giant cigar of Moose Krause. The other belonged to Krause’s good friend of many years, Robert’s father, Joseph F. Yonto, ND class of 1948.
Yonto, whose career as an assistant coach and athletics administrator spanned the tenures of five Notre Dame head football coaches, from Frank Leahy to Lou Holtz, died in South Bend in August, days after celebrating his 83rd birthday.
Yonto played fullback and guard for the Fighting Irish until a broken leg ended his playing days and launched him into coaching, starting with the freshman squad under Leahy. After graduating with a degree in physical education, Yonto coached and taught for 16 years at high schools in Indiana, Michigan and Illinois, landing finally at Notre Dame High School in Niles, Illinois, just down the street from Ara Parseghian at Northwestern University. When Parseghian moved to South Bend, he hired Yonto to shape the defensive line. Over the next 17 years Yonto trained a dozen All-America linemen on squads that routinely ranked among the top rushing defenses in the country.
“Championships are built on defense,” says fellow Parseghian staffer Tom Pagna, and Yonto played a key role in building the 1966 and ‘73 national championship teams under Parseghian and the 1977 winner under Dan Devine. After a few years in administration, Yonto returned in 1986 to coach the defensive line for two seasons on Holtz’s staff.
Yonto was a modest and plain-spoken but fiery man with loyal love for Notre Dame and a talent for motivational sarcasm. “It was memorable to see 5-foot-7 Joe looking up at Alan Page and trying to bawl him out, which would happen frequently,” Pagna recalls warmly. “But he had a way with them and they loved him for it and he got the job done.”
A native of Orrville, Ohio, Yonto married the former Betty Rose of Michigan City, Indiana. The couple had six children—Mary Jo, Carol, Tony, Robert, Therese and Joey.