Saturday, December 31, 2016

LaVell Edwards R.I.P.

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Coach Edwards about the time I first met him.

We've lost a lot of people in 2016. We were surprised to hear about the passing of Coach Edwards this week. We had not heard that he was having any major health problems, although I have since read that he was dealing with some issues. So much has been and will be written about Coach Edwards that I have nothing new to add. Only my witness that he really was a good person who tried to do the right things. When I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints back in 1974, he took part in that ordinance that changed my life forever.  I can also tell you that his full name is Reuben LaVell Edwards as that is the name on my baptismal certificate. Coach Edwards understood that it was never about him. He was all about giving responsibility and credit to those around him, which in turn made him great. He leaves behind a great posterity and a stadium with his name on it. Below are a few of the many stories and quotes about him.

5 reasons why LaVell Edwards was great
By Lafe Peavler@LafePeavler

LaVell Edwards was a giant among college football coaches.

His impact on the game of football at every level is astounding. His legacy on the gridiron will live on for generations to come. But most important of all, his impact for good on the people he associated with has changed the course of many lives and families and will continue to do so long after he's gone.

Here are five reasons why Edwards was great:

1. He put BYU on the map

Before Edwards came to Provo, BYU was a mediocre football program, at best. The Cougars had won just one conference championship, had never been to a bowl game and had an overall record of 173-235-23. BYU had just 14 winning seasons in the 50 years between 1922 and Edwards' debut in 1972.

Name one head football coach who inherited a program like this and the added challenge of being a religious school with a strict honor code and turned it into a national power. Most legendary head football coaches coached at programs that were already big names. Edwards took a small-time Utah school and elevated it to an astounding measure.

His record at BYU speaks for itself: 257 wins, 19 conference titles, 22 bowl games, 31 All-Americans, four Davey O'Brien Trophies, seven Sammy Baugh Trophies, two Outland Trophies, a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.

While other coaches may have better records or more trophies, nobody did more with what he had than Edwards.

2. He revolutionized the forward pass in college football

Edwards didn't invent the forward pass in college football. He revolutionized it.

Most college football offenses, BYU's included, depended almost entirely on a good rushing attack before Edwards came to Provo. Nobody built their offense around a passing attack. BYU's version of the West Coast Offense took the nation by storm and led to big wins for the Cougars, including Jim McMahon's 1980 Holiday Bowl comeback to Ty Detmer's win over then No. 1 Miami.

When you turn on a college football game today and watch teams try to pass the ball rather than running the old wishbone offense, remember Edwards helped bring the forward pass to the national stage. Little wonder Edwards holds a place in the College Football Hall of Fame.

3. He impacted the NFL

His mark on the pros is visible still today. Mike Holmgren was a quarterbacks coach for Edwards before he served as a quarterbacks coach and later the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. He would go on to become the head coach at Green Bay and in Seattle and won a Super Bowl ring.

Brian Billick got his start as a graduate assistant on a career that would lead him to the head coaching job for the Baltimore Ravens and winning the Super Bowl. Andy Reid also started as a graduate assistant and he's still coaching the Kansas City Chiefs. Edwards' coaching tree is truly impressive even at the NFL level.

Steve Young is on just about everybody's list of the best NFL quarterback of all-time. He won three Super Bowl rings and won the league's MVP award twice, not to mention the many other former BYU players who left their mark on the game.

Who can doubt Edwards' impact on the highest levels of football?

4. He elevated the BYU-Utah rivalry

The strong dislike between BYU and Utah predates Edwards by a lot. The Utes absolutely dominated the Cougars as they led the series with a record of 41-8-4 before Edwards took over.

All that changed as BYU would win 19 of Edwards' first 21 games against its arch-rival. But by the time Edwards retired, the Utes elevated their play and made this into one of the more competitive rivalries in college football.

Edwards' success at BYU was one of the best things to happen to Utah in a round about way. The Utes raised their game under Ron McBride to compete with the Cougars and now they are part of the Pac-12.

And if you want to see how to act with class within this heated rivalry, check out Edwards' many appearances with McBride, including this video with KSL.

5. He changed the lives of those who knew him for good

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While many of Edward's accomplishments can be quantified in terms of wins, titles and trophies, his impact on the lives of those who played, coached and worked with cannot. When just about anybody talks about their time with Edwards, a common remark is how Edwards made them want to be better people together with his wonderful wife Patti. This couple worked together to improve lives, and not just stats on the football field

Perhaps former BYU President Dallin H. Oaks said it best: "LaVell's success as a football coach has given pride to the university community. But, more importantly, his success as a leader, mentor and role model has blessed the lives of thousands of young men and women and their families."

Given how many people have been touched by BYU football over the years, Edwards' impact has touched millions of people. While he'll be remembered nationally as a great football coach, it's impossible to measure the good Edwards has brought to this world by simply elevating those around him and making them want to be good people.

And even though Edwards has passed on from this life, his influence will live on for years and generations to come.

How LaVell Edwards always kept things in perspective
By Dick Harmon@harmonwrites

In 1979, LaVell Edwards and BYU football were on the cusp of their heyday and in the middle of a remarkable run of conference titles, national rankings and All-American quarterbacks, and I had a couple of years under my belt covering the Cougars as a fledging sports writer for the Provo Daily Herald.

LaVell's wife Patti wrote a column for our sports section once a week. In the profession I'd chosen, I hoped I could make my mark someday and worked hard doing everything I could, but the truth was I was nobody and my byline meant very little to anybody.

On Oct. 9, my second son, 2-year-old Jeff, was hit by a Utah Power and Light truck and killed in front of my mother-in-law's home on 1200 West in Orem, and my oldest son Brandon witnessed it all. This took place a few days before BYU played Utah State.

As my little family recoiled and tried to make sense of this loss, we were at the funeral home in Provo standing in front of the casket the night before Jeff's burial as friends and family shuffled by and offered condolences. I looked up and to my surprise there was LaVell Edwards and Patti next in line, dressed in their Sunday best, there to be supportive, mingling with our parents and siblings, and I was a little stunned. Surely during game week with an instate foe, he'd have had plenty of excuses to not add one more thing to his agenda that night. On the other hand, in his mind, and that of his wife, this was a priority.

A decade later, standing outside BYU's locker room at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, the University of Hawaii had just spoiled a day filled with BYU celebration over a Heisman Trophy for All-American and future Hall of Famer Ty Detmer. The Warriors had thumbed BYU good, humiliated the team. But standing outside that locker room, Edwards was calm and collected and had compartmentalized what had happened. He was prepared to move on with remarkable perspective.

If there's one thing that's stood out all these decades of watching Edwards up close and from afar, it was his perspective. He gets it. He controls it. It never controlled him.

LaVell Edwards’ legacy will forever be the feat of creating an iconic football brand from something that had always been so much less. He was a man known for his remarkable insight into the souls of young men. An innovator and visionary, he made friends as easily as the rest of us breathe. He will be remembered as a tremendous example, a pillar among his peers.

Edwards, the head football coach at BYU from 1972 to 2000 who led the Cougars to the college football national championship in 1984, died Thursday, Dec. 29. He was 86.

Edwards fell several times inside his home this past week, according to friends. His health rapidly declined following those incidents. On Christmas Eve, Edwards fell and broke his hip. He was attended to by his son John, an Ogden orthopedic surgeon, right before his death. According to former player Jeff Blanc, a running back in the '70s, Edwards had planned to meet him in St. George for golf before BYU's bowl game in San Diego. "He said his feet were hurting him and he couldn't make it. But he could still shoot his age on the golf course."

He was a man who players, family and friends remember with unfettered adoration. The tales told of his life and times bring both smiles and tears. His victories are part of college football lore, and the heroes he ushered into football sainthood in Provo are legion.

Edwards’ style inspired a generation of coaches, including Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, BYU’s Kalani Sitake and Washington State’s Mike Leach, and he was an early model for the NFL’s Andy Reid, Mike Holmgren and Brian Billick.

Edwards was a megastar at making and retaining relationships, an art he excelled at throughout his life.

Edwards was born Oct. 11, 1930, to Philo and Addie Edwards and spent most of his life in Utah County.

His parents owned 80 acres in Buckhorn, Utah, but decided to move one summer before his birth. They couldn’t sell, trade or give the land away until someone agreed to pay Philo $10 an acre. He took the $800 and put a down payment on a 17-acre orchard in Orem.

Being from a big family didn’t exempt LaVell from chores. He learned to work hard, often milking cows and picking fruit. His parents said they never heard him swear, and he was a dependable son.

Edwards graduated from Lincoln High in Orem before attending Utah State University.

In Logan, Edwards became a football star. He played linebacker and center and was soon named team captain. He was an all-conference lineman before serving a two-year commitment in the Army. “He wasn’t elected. It wasn’t a democracy under coach (John) Roning. But LaVell was a leader,” said teammate De Van Robbins, a San Francisco dentist.

It was in Logan he met Patti Covey from Wyoming, who would become his wife and lifelong sweetheart. He and Patti have three children, Ann (Cannon), John and Jim.

LaVell and Patti once accepted an invitation from their friend Sy Kimball to go fishing in Alaska.

Edwards liked to fish, but it wasn’t as big of deal to him as it was to Kimball, a veteran of numerous deep-sea fishing trips off Baja, California, and the owner of a giant yacht. Kimball wanted the trip to be a special experience for his buddy, the coach.

The first morning, Kimball waited for Edwards to arise, and finally had to wake him up. Not exactly raring to go, LaVell would have slumbered through the entire outing.

Once onboard and out on the water, everyone was outfitted with tackle, poles and gear, but the salmon weren’t biting. After a long wait, Kimball noticed LaVell’s pole wiggling. He nudged the coach and asked him to test the line. Sure enough, Edwards had a lunker.

Kimball tells this story with a laugh because LaVell Edwards is a man who is so easily loved and such a magnet for success — just like the way that big fish came calling for the guy who was barely interested.

That’s the type of banter that follows Edwards, who in his own part of the world (and a few others) is a legend.

Former BYU quarterback, San Francisco 49er and Super Bowl MVP Steve Young is a legend in his own right. The current ESPN commentator likes sharing the story of his recruiting trip to BYU the first decade of Edwards' coaching career. He remembers sitting in a line of guys outside Edwards’ office who were waiting to see the head coach. He was the last guy.

“LaVell knew my name but not much else," Young recalled. "I didn’t know if he was going to offer me a scholarship or not. In his office he was sitting in his chair, and I saw a bunch of spiritual books on the shelves behind him.

“A coach with spiritual books. I was pretty impressed. I didn’t think the two could mix," Young continued. "As I sat there, I thought for a second he had fallen asleep. He started chewing on his tongue, like he was looking for inspiration. Then he said, ‘I think we’ll give you a scholarship.’ I’m grateful he gave me, an option quarterback, a chance. He sees more in you than you can see in yourself. That is the greatest compliment you can give a coach."

“He is like a father to the players,” said Steve Sarkisian in 1996, a player who quarterbacked Edwards’ 1996 team to a 14-1 record. “He really cares about us individually, and while he’s low key and sometimes looks like he’s bored in games, nobody wants to win more than he does. He has a fire inside of him and he loves the game.”

After 29 seasons and 257 wins at BYU when he retired, Edwards ranked as the sixth all-time winningest coach. His peers in this regard included the top echelon of all college coaches, including Bo Schembechler, Tom Osborne, Woody Hayes, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner and Bear Bryant.

When hired at BYU, the Cougars had won just 173 games the previous 49 years, with just one conference championship and no bowl invitations. By his retirement, BYU had 22 bowl appearances and 20 league titles. His teams passed for 57 miles in his 29 seasons.

“LaVell’s consistency from one year to another has been incredible and unbelievable,” said former University of Utah coach Ron McBride, who became lifelong friends with Edwards despite a rivalry that has been heated and called toxic by some.

Edwards’ final game at BYU took place on a November night in 2000 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, a game in which his 6-6 Cougars battled for their lives and saw Utah outscore them 17-0 in the fourth quarter to take what looked like a final lead. A controversial no-call on what some say was a fumble by a BYU running back led to a last-gasp chance to finish a late scoring drive and send Edwards out a winner. A series of unbelievable pass plays from quarterback Brandon Doman to Jonathan Pittman extended that drive and brought the Cougars inside Utah’s 4-yard line where Doman dove over the goal line for the winning TD in the closing seconds.

“It was almost like a miracle,” said Pittman. “Somebody was looking down on us. Somebody wanted us to get him (LaVell) that victory.”

From the time he took over at BYU in 1972 through the 1985 season, Edwards’ teams won 122 games while losing just 36. From 1979 through ’85, the Cougars were 77-12 and won seven consecutive conference championships. Over two-and-a-half decades, 10 of his players were consensus All-Americans. He also coached seven Sammy Baugh Trophy winners, five Davey O’Brien award-winning quarterbacks, a Heisman Trophy recipient and two Outland Trophy winners. He saw one of his former players on the NFL’s Super Bowl championship team every year from 1980 to 1992.

Six of Edwards’ players, Ty Detmer, Gordon Hudson, Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson and Gifford Nielsen, have been inducted with him into the College Football Hall of Fame, now located in Atlanta.

Edwards never held a job outside the state of Utah. His first coaching job was at Granite High, where he coached eight seasons without a winning record. Hal Mitchell hired Edwards as an assistant coach at BYU in the mid-1960s because, as Edwards tells it, he was the only Mormon who knew how to run the single wing. Oklahoman Tommy Hudspeth replaced Mitchell in the mid-1960s, and in 1972 BYU asked Edwards to take over the program. By his own admission, he had no groundbreaking ideas and he wasn’t a dreamer looking for a throne or pot of gold.

Edwards had some ideas. He thought he could take some weaknesses in BYU’s athletic stock and turn them into positives. He also believed in loyalty, friendship and the potential of young men. He believed if he hired a coach, he’d let them do their job. He was the first BYU head coach to see missionary service as a potential advantage instead of a stumbling block.

In time, Edwards became the winningest coach in the western United States and revolutionized the college passing game. “We got lucky with the pass because people weren’t used to seeing what we did,” he said after retirement a few years before his death. In his heyday, five of the top 11 single-season passing efficiency performances in NCAA history belonged to BYU quarterbacks in Edwards’ system. Two were by Detmer and one each by Sarkisian, McMahon and Young.

Edwards’ teams led the nation in passing offense eight times, led the nation in total offense five times, and led the country in scoring offense three times.

One of Edwards’ first hires in 1972 was a former Tennessee quarterback named Dewey Warren, who helped install a passing philosophy to put defenses on alert. But, ironically that year, his running back Pete Van Valkenburg ended up winning the NCAA rushing title.

As Edwards continued to tweak his idea of using the pass in the 1970s, he hired Doug Scovil, who had worked with the famed Sid Luckman out of California, and a graduate assistant named Norm Chow. Later he added Mike Holmgren and then Ted Tollner — all of whom joined Chow in developing what became BYU’s famed air attack. It all took off with a junior-college transfer quarterback named Gary Sheide, who, in 1974, led the Cougars to their first-ever bowl appearance, the Fiesta Bowl, against Oklahoma State.

Edwards’ roots were right in BYU’s backyard. His parents, Philo and Addie, were salt of the earth, God-fearing, simple people who taught basic principles of honesty, charity and ethics.

In 1984, Philo Edwards stood up on his old legs before his church congregation and bore a witness of God before his neighbors — thanking his maker and expressing love for his petite wife Addie, then 87, for his full life and his 14 children. Included among those was No. 8, the celebrated LaVell.

A big, handsome, athletic looking man, Philo told church members he had experienced so much in his life to be thankful for. And there were things he hoped to still do in his life. Asked by a neighbor afterward what exactly he’d like to see before he died, he said, “I’d like to see my boy win a national championship,” he replied.

In a few months, Philo’s wish came true. In the 1984 season, national contenders Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington lost games and undefeated BYU climbed to No. 1 in the polls. When none of the contenders would break their respective league’s bowl ties to face BYU, the Robbie Bosco-led Cougars played and defeated a 6-6 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl. Afterward, AP and UPI voters unanimously crowned the Cougars national champions.

That feat triggered a political movement among power legacy football programs across the country, and it led to the creation of the Bowl Coalition, the BCS, congressional hearings about anti-trust claims, and then the College Football Playoffs we have today. “Never again” was the talk in the back room of the nation’s major conferences. “Never again” would a program outside of the blue bloods rise to that lofty rung. And that charge has held true politically as the NCAA has evolved since 1984.

“Everyone out there knows what LaVell’s accomplished,” said former Syracuse coach Dick McPherson in 1984. “He’s done the impossible.”

“He is one of the most honest men I’ve known” said Grant Teaff, former Baylor head coach and athletic director. “And you can’t separate the coaching from the man.”

Edwards knew the life of a fruit farmer. He sold shoes in a Salt Lake City Sears store, worked for city recreation departments, and taught physical education at the high school and college levels.

“It’s hard to imagine him not being a football coach,” said Robbins, his former teammate, in an interview in the mid-1990s. “He always wanted to be one. He never had any other aspirations that I know of.”

The late Penn State coach Joe Paterno called Edwards one of the “true giants in our game,” and praised his integrity. “He is a magnificent human being and has done a fantastic coaching job. We have had some great games. We beat them up here, and they kicked our ears out there. When you played him, you played against a man in the program that had a lot of class.”

The late Dick Felt, once a defensive back at Lehi High, went on to play at BYU and the NFL before working as an assistant coach for Edwards for more than two decades. Felt remembered Edwards as the same guy he knew in high school and college as a rival player, then as his boss and lifelong friend.

“The way he handles young men is outstanding,” said Felt. “He’s honest and patient with players, and genuinely likes these young men. He teaches that there’s more to life than football and that, in my opinion, separates him from other college coaches.

Trevor Matich, an ESPN sportscaster and former center on BYU's 1984 national title team called Edwards a father figure.

"LaVell loved his players like a father loves his children," said Matich. "You felt that. And you didn’t even realize how much it mattered at the time. The wins, the trophies and championships are important because it’s hard to win at such a hard level with so much consistency like LaVell did. You look back now and you realize how much LaVell helped you to grow up in the right way. That, to me, is his real legacy.

“His players respect him," Matich continued. "You see that after years and years when they return. You don’t acquire that respect just by being a coach. You have to earn it.”

Two of the living BYU presidents who presided over the LaVell Edwards era are on record with their praise. Both are members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“When we named Coach Edwards to be the new head football coach at BYU in 1972, we knew that he was the popular choice of the players,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks in a statement at the time of Edwards' retirement.

“We knew he was a sound tactician. He knew the game. … He also believed in the mission of Brigham Young University. He believed right off the bat that returned missionaries could play football. Before LaVell, we had no more than two or three returned missionaries on the team.

“After a couple of years under Coach Edwards, those numbers shot up significantly. That was a good thing for the university and the team. He was way ahead of his time in that vision and in many others. LaVell’s success as a football coach has given pride to the university community. But, more importantly, his success as a leader, mentor and role model has blessed the lives of thousands of young men and women and their families.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland echoed those sentiments.

“Coach Edwards was always an example of what you would want your football players to observe, then emulate,” said Elder Holland. “One of LaVell’s many admirable characteristics is his constancy, his stability. If we won, he was happy, but his delight was always modest. And if we lost, life was still good because he had Patti and his children, he had his players, and he had his faith.”

Edwards’ official record as a college coach was 257-101-3. His quarterbacks threw over 11,000 passes for more than 100,000 yards and 635 touchdowns. He took BYU football to where many said it could never go.

But if you ask those who knew him, he was always about so much more.

Funeral plans are pending and will be announced soon. A family friend said a public funeral will be followed by a family funeral. In lieu of flowers, the family asks contributions be directed to the Utah County Boys and Girls Club. For more information go to bgcutah.org.

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