"Pair off in threes” is a jocular line that several coaches have given to their players. American football player and coach Ernie Godfrey (1892-1980) was credited in 1937 for “Now let’s pair off in threes.”
New York Yankees catcher and baseball manager Yogi Berra (1925-2015) was credited with the line in 1979, but this was long after other coaches had used it.
Wikipedia: Ernie Godfrey
Ernest R. Godfrey (April 19, 1892 – June 12, 1980) was an American football player and coach of football and basketball. Godfrey served as head football coach at Wittenberg University for 11 years before returning to his alma mater, Ohio State University, as an assistant coach. He served at Ohio State for 33 years under seven head coaches. He was the line coach for 19 years, defensive backfield coach for four years, and freshman coach for ten years. Godfrey was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1972.
10 November 1937, Evening World-Herald (Omaha, NE), “Coaches Lyrical: Coin Pet Phrases for Practice” by George Kirksey (United Press Staff Correspondent), pg. 19, col. 7:
Two of the best cracks heard at the Buckeyes’ drills are pulled by line coach Ernie Godfrey, who frequently yells, “Scatter out in bunches,” and “Now let’s pair off in threes.”
Google News Archive
22 January 1952, Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette “Roamin’ Around” by Jack Sell, pg. 15, col. 2:
“Pair off in threes, was his command.”
(A command of Bill Edwards, Detroit Lions coach.—ed.)
The Saturday Evening Post
He may direct a player to “Put your hind foot back,” or tell a group to “Scatter out in bunches” or “Pair off in threes.”
(University of Oklahoma football coach Gomer Jones.—ed.)
29 December 1959, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Diddle’s Dandy Antics,” sec. 2, pg. 9, col. 2:
The mention of Western Kentucky always brings to mind the many humorous tales oft repeated about WK’s coaching wizard, Ed Diddle.
Here are a few we remember from reading Freddie Russell’s book, “Bury Me in an Old Press Box”:
3—While indoctrinating freshman prospects: “You all pair off in threes.”
13 May 1962, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), ‘Ernie Godfrey Ends 50 Years in Sports” by Fritz Howell (AP), pg. 8-C, col. 3:
It is with awe that his players recall orders to “Pair off in threes,” or “scatter out in bunches,” during practice sessions.
20 November 1972, Charleston (WV) Gazette, “A Thought a Day Keeps Matters Gray” by L. T. Anderson, pg. 7A, col. 4:
Today’s Chiltonism: “All right, everybody pair off in threes.” Uttered by Joe Lyles, soccer and baseball coach at Washington and Lee University.
7 December 1977, Washington (DC) Star, “‘Coach’ Joe Kozik” by John Sherwood, pg. E-4, col. 5:
He has instructed gym classes to “pair off in threes”; he has warned against “unsportsmanshiplike” conduct, and has announced that “the future is ahead of us.”
(Gonzaga High School baseball, backetball and football coach Joe Kozik.—ed.)
13 July 1979, The State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL), “They Said It,” pg. 39, col. 1:
MICKEY MANTLE, former Yankees great, on Berra: “In spring training he told pitchers to pair off in threes.”
6 February 1993, The Times (Trenton, NJ), “Good Humor” by Frank Tyger, pg. B1, col. 1:
Attributed to Yogi Berra: “OK, everybody! Pair off in threes!”
17 January 1998, Amarillo (TX) Daily News, “What we say isn’t always what’s meant,” pg. 1C, col. 1:
’’You guys pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle.”—Bill Peterson, a Florida State football coach.
CBS (Chicago, IL)
In Memory: 20 Great Yogi Berra Quotes
September 23, 2015 4:41 PM
NEW YORK (AP) — Here’s some of the more widely quoted philosophy of Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher who died Tuesday at age 90:
On a spring training drill: “Pair off in threes.”