BYU beat Wyoming on December 21st, capping off their 2016 season with an 9-4 record and giving Kalani Sitake his first bowl game win of his career. All seemed right in the world.
Then yesterday, the world of college football would learn of and mourn the loss of LaVell Edwards, who pulled BYU from out of the depths of obscurity and into the spotlight among college football’s premier programs.
As former vice president of the Dallas Cowboys, Gil Brandt, once said, “BYU has as good an offensive concept as anyone - college or pro - in football.”
Edwards was a remarkable man, but what made him remarkable wasn’t that he recorded 257 wins, won 20 conference titles, made 22 bowl appearances, produced 31 All-Americans, and won the 1984 National Championship.
It wasn’t the fact he rose up from an undistinguished high school football coaching career, were he never amassing a winning record and ran the single-wing offense, to develop the passing game that changed the world of college football forever.
No, it wasn’t the fact that he produced an influential coaching tree with branches that still extend throughout college and NFL programs today.
It wasn’t the fact Edwards took over a fledgling college football program that had amassed just 173 total wins in 49 seasons, with only two previous head coaches (Eddie Kimball 34-32) and G. Ott Romney (42-31) recording winning career records, and turning it into college football’s unlikeliest champion in 1984.
In fact, Edwards didn’t think his coaching stint at BYU would last long saying, “When I started I knew it was a matter of when, not if, I would get fired. That's because that was just the past history of the previous coaches that had been there.”
It wasn’t that Edwards coached nine All-American quarterbacks (Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer, Marc Wilson, Robbie Bosco, Gary Scheide, Gifford Nielson, Steve Sarkisian, and Virgil Carter), or the fact his teams led the nation in passing offense (eight times), total offense (five times), and scoring offense (three times).
It also wasn’t his outstanding coaching pedigree with branches reaching into the NFL. Coaches such as former Green Bay Packer and Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, the late Doug Scovil of the Philadelphia Eagles, former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, former San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders passing game coordinator Ted Tollner, former Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian, former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick, Fred Whittingham who coached with the Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders, and current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
He also has branches of his coaching tree that made impacts all over college football, including the following coaches:
Dick Felt: Former BYU assistant athletic director, assistant head coach, defensive coordinator, and defensive backfield coach (played defensive back, running back, and punter at BYU).
Steve Sarkisian: Current Alabama offensive tackle, former USC and Washington head coach; USC offensive coordinator.
Hal Mumme: Former SMU offensive coordinator and Kentucky and New Mexico State head coach; Mumme was heavily influenced by Lavell Edwards in 1970’s.
Norm Chow: For two decades Chow was BYU’s quarterback coach until he was given the reigns as offensive coordinator in 1996. He coached multiple All-American quarterbacks like Steve Sarkisian and Ty Detmer, who won the Heisman Trophy. Following his departure from BYU, Chow would go on to develop future NFL quarterback Philip Rivers at North Carolina State. He would develop two more Heisman Trophy winners at USC in Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. He would also help lead the Trojans to back-to-back National Championships at USC in 2003-04. Chow finished out his coaching career in his home state of Hawaii as the University of Hawaii’s head coach.
Kyle Whittingham: After playing linebacker for Coach Edwards from 1978 through 1981, Whittingham was hired by Lavell Edwards as a graduate assistant coach at BYU for two seasons. After a decade of coaching at smaller schools, Whittingham was hired on as the defensive line coach at Utah. He would eventually succeed head coach Urban Meyer as head coach in 2005 where he remains as head coach of the Utes.
Fred Whittingham: Fred Whittingham played at BYU in 1963 and would eventually play in the NFL for eight seasons. Edwards hired Whittingham, who returned to BYU 1973 to coach linebackers. He would eventually become Edwards’ defensive coordinator for three years.
Robert Anae: He was a graduate assistant under Edwards in 1990 who would eventually become an offensive line coach at Texas Tech and Arizona. Anae would later twice serve as BYU’s offensive coordinator and is now the current offensive coordinator at Virginia.
Brian Billick: Prior to becoming a graduate assistant under Lavell Edwards, Billick was an All-American and All-WAC tight end at BYU. After moving on from BYU, Billick would coach tight ends at San Diego State for four seasons and then offensive coordinator at Utah State for two. He would eventually be hired as an assistant head coach at Stanford.
Ted Tollner: Following his brief tenure as BYU’s offensive coordinator in 1981, Tollner headed to Southern California to be the offensive coordinator at USC under head coach John Robinson. After one season as the OC, Tollner became the head coach of the Trojans. Later he would become the head coach at San Diego State.
Doug Scovil: Doug Scovil was hired at BYU in 1976 by Edwards, which would set the stage for BYU’s high-powered passing offense. After his successful years at BYU, Scovil would go on to become the head coach at San Diego State for five seasons.
Brandon Doman: A former BYU quarterback under Edwards, Doman would return to his alma mater as a position coach and offensive coordinator.
Tom Holmoe: A former safety and Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers following playing at BYU, Holmoe would eventually go on to coach at Cal-Berkeley before returning to his alma mater to be the athletics director.
Charlie Stubbs: Stubbs graduated from BYU in 1978 and became a graduate assistant in 1983-83, where he coached wide receivers under Edwards. He then went on to coach quarterbacks and fulfill offensive coordinator duties at several schools such as Oregon State, Memphis, UNLV, Alabama, Tulsa, and Louisville.
“He was such a great delegator and he knew everything what he wanted to accomplish,” said former BYU standout defensive back Derwin Gray. “He would put great coaches around him and he would delegate to those coaches, empower those coaches, and then champion those coaches.”
Others influenced by LaVell Edwards are Washington State head coach Mike Leach and West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. All of the accomplishments of the coaches he influenced still aren’t the lasting legacy of his life.
The greatness of LaVell Edwards’ legacy is profound but unheralded within the sports world. His greatest legacy is found in the abundance of life-changing love that affected the lives of players and coaches who interacted with him. Former BYU fullback under Edwards, and current BYU head coach, Kalani Sitake stated the following concerning LaVell’s influence upon hearing of his passing:
“As I have expressed many times, LaVell had a tremendous impact on me, not only as a player and as a coach but even more importantly as a person,” Coach Sitake said. “That is LaVell. He had an impact on so many lives, and not just as coach but as a person. So many people — players, coaches, fans, the entire BYU family, coaching colleagues and opponents — will tell you they are a better person because of him, and I’m definitely one of them. We all love LaVell and appreciate the amazing legacy he leaves with each of us.”
LaVell Edwards’ life-changing influence on BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe was summed up with this emotional and sweet praise:
“I love LaVell Edwards. He came into my life, and the life of many others, at just the right time,” Holmoe said. “I had the influence of a great coach, a wonderful person, a disciple of Christ, a loyal family man and a true friend, from the day I met him until the day he passed away. LaVell had a pure heart. He was the dream coach of every parent. His example will forever be with me and I will strive to live a life of love as he always did.”
The true legacy of LaVell Edwards lies in the ability to look into the heart of others. Former BYU defensive back Derwin Gray recalled a man who looked into his heart and inspired him to be better and then trusted that he would be.
“I would say for me, you know, even the first time I met him it was in high school,” recalled Gray. “He would come down to Converse Judson and he was in my head coach’s office. Claude Bassett, who was recruiting me wanted me, wanted me to meet Coach Edwards because I didn’t pass my ACT. Coach Edwards spoke with me, and from our conversation he ascertained I was smart enough to pass the ACT. Coach Edwards took a chance on me, even though my grades were not where they needed to be.”
The greatness of LaVell Edwards’ legacy lies in his ability to positively influence with life changing effect.
“Even in my freshman year when I ran into some trouble because of some poor decisions, there he was again to give me another chance,” Gray explained. “So, when I think of Coach Edwards I think of a man who knew how to love people and knew how to develop people, and he’s one of the greatest coaches in NCAA history. Those are the things that I think of when I think of him is that he took a risk with me, gave me a chance, loved me, and helped me develop as a man. Even now as a husband and professionally as a pastor so much of my leadership I model after what I learned at BYU.”
The greatness of LaVell Edwards’ legacy lies in his ability to unconditionally love his players with timeless affection.
“Then he was able to uniquely interact with every player as though they were the only player,” Gray continued. “I watched him do that his whole life, and I watched him do that throughout my years at BYU. He just made you feel special. This is something that we as players still talk about. When I talk with Ty [Detmer], Chad Lewis, Tim McTyer, and others and we all talk about how much he loved and influenced us to be better. What is amazing is when you talk to guys that played for him at different time periods, and what you find is the love and influence he gave them spans through different playing periods. I believe his ability to love and read people to know exactly what’s needed in their lives made him a man who could change lives. That made him a special man, and I’m grateful that he was a part of my life, because like so many others I’m a better man for it.”
Rest In Peace, Coach Edwards. We love and respect you.