LaVell Edwards (October 11, 1930-December 29, 2016) was a legend in every imaginable sense of the word. He built a no-name college football program based at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Provo, Utah into a national powerhouse and put together a dynasty that remains as one of the unique success stories in all of college football.
Much has been written and said about Coach Edwards today as the news of his passing spread. He was a larger-than-life icon for me growing up in nearby Orem, UT. I sat in the west stands of what was then Cougar Stadium with my grandfather for years, watching BYU motor up-and-down the field with their wide-open offense, and loved every second of it. I was in the stadium on November 18, 2000 when Gordon B. Hinckley, then-president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, announced that Cougar Stadium would be renamed LaVell Edwards Stadium. As the crowd roared their approval, Coach Edwards was overcome with emotion, probably the only soul in the entire stadium who hadn't entertained the thought of such an honor. That moment epitomized who LaVell Edwards was for me.
It's been noted multiple times already today but what LaVell Edwards accomplished as a college football coach is simply incredible. In 29 years at the helm of the BYU football program, he compiled a career record of 257 wins (7th all-time in college football), 101 losses, and 3 ties. Those 257 wins are the second-most while coaching at one school behind Joe Paterno's 409 wins at Penn State. Most notably, he led BYU to the 1984 national championship, the last so-called "Mid-Major" or "Group of Five" program to accomplish the feat. He coached 13 players who finished in the Top 10 of Heisman Trophy balloting during his coaching career, capped by Ty Detmer winning the award in 1990.
His prolific offenses earned his quarterbacks four Davey O'Brien Awards (Jim McMahon, Steve Young, and Ty Detmer twice), and seven Sammy Baugh Trophy Awards that stretched across two-plus decades from Gary Sheide in 1974 to Steve Sarkisian in 1996. The awards didn't stop with his quarterbacks. He coached Jason Buck and Mohammed Elewonibi, who both won the Outland Trophy, which is awarded annually to the outstanding interior lineman in college football, and mentored Luke Staley before Staley won the Doak Walker Award in 2001 in Gary Crowton's first season after Edwards' retirement. In 29 seasons as a head coach, Edwards won 20 conference championships and led BYU to 22 bowl games. He coached 31 All-Americans during his tenure and saw four of his former players be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame before he, himself, was inducted into that fraternity in 2004.
College football fans are often fascinated with coaching trees of legendary coaches and LaVell Edwards' tree has many branches. Names like Doug Scovil, Ted Tollner, Norm Chow, Mike Leach, Dave Kragthorpe, Robert Anae, Kyle Whittingham, and the aforementioned Steve Sarkisian have all made significant impacts on college football while Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick, and Andy Reid have won a combined 442 games in the NFL and two Super Bowls. Other notable coaches like Hal Mumme, Spike Dykes, Sonny Dykes, Dana Holgorsen, Kevin Sumlin, Kliff Kingsbury, and the aforementioned Leach have credited the passing game concepts innovated and developed by Edwards as the basis for their own prolific offensive attacks.
I won't pretend that I was around to see the entirety of LaVell Edwards' run at BYU. I was born in 1987, just before the high-flying career of Heisman Trophy Winner Ty Detmer's career took off in Provo. My earliest memories of spending time with my father and grandfather are of watching BYU football games, both in person and on TV, as Detmer set the NCAA record books ablaze. My grandfather had the privilege of interacting with Coach Edwards on occasion as a optometrist with his practice based in Provo and he always spoke of Coach Edwards in reverential tones. As I grew older, I began to look back at what BYU accomplished under Edwards and quickly realized that he transformed BYU from a nobody into a household name. For all of his on-field accomplishments, it's what he did away from the gridiron that looms even larger.
As I talked to and listened to former BYU players and coaches talk about their memories of Coach Edwards today, their comments conspicuously left his on-field accomplishments alone. Instead they seemed fixated on the type of person LaVell was and what he helped these men accomplish away from the football field. It's easy to distinguish that Coach Edwards had the innate ability to use football as his medium for transforming boys into men of sound character. That legacy out-does any on-field achievements, no matter how large the honor. In a profession that regularly sees coaches stray from their stated goals and standards, LaVell Edwards was a shining beacon in the darkness.
Nothing I have written here or could write will ever do justice to the impact LaVell Edwards had during his 86 years on this earth. Former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall espoused three pillars during his tenure in Provo, those being Tradition, Spirit, and Honor. LaVell Edwards was the living embodiment of those ideals and the world is forever changed because of the life of one Reuben LaVell Edwards. I finish with a quote from the immortal movie "The Sandlot," where Babe Ruth tells Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez "Remember kid, there's heroes and there's legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die." May the legend of LaVell Edwards live on forever. Rest In Peace, Coach.