A favorite play of LaVell Edwards was executed to perfection three times in a row in the last home game before this afternoon.
That"best play" is one Edwards personally demonstrated to his team on occasion-he got behind the center, took the snap and dropped immediately to one knee. Many times in Edwards' 28-plus years at the BYU helm have resulted in his favorite play.
As we pay tribute in many ways to the legendary LaVell Edwards in his final game on the sidelines in Provo, here's some insights into the 70-year-old's time at BYU as seen by yours truly. I've had opportunity to see LaVell in many places in his capacity as the head football coach who put BYU on the map.
Here is a man who has stood alongside prophets and knelt with his players in prayer.
Others who have insight into LaVell know one of his secrets is that he never gets too high after an impressive victory or too low after a devastating loss. He is even keel. I've witnessed few times when Coach Edwards lost his cool. I've seen the proud smile of he and his wife Patti as they have watched some of his football players conduct themselves with aplomb during press conferences.
Never have I heard him reveal who he thought was the best quarterback to come through the passing system he masterminded from years of frustration being a defensive coordinator against other potent offensive attacks. I've heard rumor that he believed his 1983 and 1985 teams might have been his best, even though it was the 1984 team that won the national championship and his 1979 team which approached another near-perfect season.
When his teams finally broke the top 20 rankings with regularity for consecutive weeks, it was my privilege to phone the wire services on Mondays and ask where BYU was ranked. How I remember those first occasions, strolling alongside LaVell on the practice field and reveal to him where BYU had moved up in the rankings. He was interested, but never obsessed with the rankings.
He was also interested in his own son, Jimmy, playing wide receiver. Edwards was sensitive to the accusation he ran up the score after the game was clearly won, so the tale penned by his journalist wife regarding Jimmy was of particular interest. Patti wrote that quarterback coach Mike Holmgren, who moved on to become head coach of the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, was trying to curry a favor with LaVell in the mid-1980s. In the closing minutes of one game, LaVell became upset when he saw a pass being executed instead running out the clock until he saw who caught the ball. "It all became 'relative,' " wrote Patti.
Many of LaVell's players were like sons to him. Each Spring he would repeat the counsel that if his players would use the same habits in life as they did in football, they would become successful. Patti also took a concern for the players, hosting yearly gatherings for the wives of all the married players on the team.
On one of his many weekly round-trips to Salt Lake City, I rode with LaVell, something he also did with his co-captains to instruct them. More often, his weekly passenger was his wife, whom he would drop off at daughter Ann's en route to the weekly Big Five Huddle.
Once I followed LaVell's car over icy mountain roads in Wyoming as we raced over the speed limit from Laramie before the highway closed to get to Denver's Stapleton Airport on time in the days of a non-charter flight. The team had already gone on the bus, but LaVell remained behind to do his coach's show on KSL Radio with Paul James. The snow and wind were threatening, but one of the writers whom I was transporting was not ready to leave. LaVell physically lifted me into that Wyoming elevator and told me we were leaving, so the writer remained behind.
Patti was in the car with LaVell, while I who"knew" my native Wyoming roads tried to keep pace with them. I was never so relieved as when we finally made it to the interstate where road conditions improved. Later, we learned there was always time for post-game player interviews as long as LaVell hadn't boarded the bus headed for the team's charter flight.
Speaking of roads, LaVell's dry wit was evidenced one morning when we were scheduled to be at a press conference in 1985 at the Meadowlands as part of the Kickoff Classic in New Jersey. LaVell wanted to drive his co-captains to the press conference instead of having them ride with us, so that he could counsel them. The press conference started, but no coach or players were in sight. When they arrived late, players revealed LaVell had driven lost in circles several times through the same toll booth. Edwards dead-panned,"In Utah, we've already paid for our roads."
It was during that Kickoff Classic that LaVell used one of the perks of his job to score hard-to-obtain tickets to the Bruce Springsteen Concert for his son John.
Another time I saw him use his benefit towards another was in 1988 at Australia prior to playing Colorado State in the Melbourne Bowl. I knew Edwards rarely played golf, one of his passions, during the football season. Australian officials made special arrangement for the Royal Melbourne Golf Course to reopen for only a four-some after it had been closed from a major tour event the previous week where the Great White Shark Greg Norman had starred. LaVell accepted the invitation to play, then made himself unavailable and passed the perk on to one of his golf-loving assistant coaches, Dick Felt.
LaVell always found time for interviews. Once at a Texas hotel he invited me into his room, the Field Scovell suite, named after the long-time team selection chairman of the Cotton Bowl. The room was full of memorabilia which an exhausted Edwards could appreciate.
Dreams are what LaVell made come true at BYU. As he retires, people reflect on the national championship, beating Notre Dame in South Bend, having Notre Dame and Penn State come to play in Provo-imagine, he brought Lou Holtz and Joe Paterno to the sidelines in Provo. He not only guided BYU to its first bowl game, but a series of consecutive bowl appearances and conference championships.
The expansion of Cougar Stadium was because of LaVell's success, command and respect. His offices moved from closeted quarters on the second floor of the Smith Fieldhouse to nicer, remodeled handball courts on the main level. On Sunday evenings as he and his assistants reviewed game films, often he would spring for pizza for his tiring, devoted staff.
He was loyal to his assistants and they to him. He delegated so freely to these assistants, that some criticized Edwards for no longer being aware of what was happening with his program. True, he did need tutorials to prep him for all-star coaching appearances, but he was keen on knowing what transpired on the field and in planning sessions. Once, a reporter came to arrange an interview a day ahead of schedule. Before the reporter left the practice field, LaVell pointed out the reporter might want to adjust his unzipped pants.
Reporters and fans often heard LaVell's post-game analysis begin with the words,"Obviously we were pleased with the win." One of my favorite oft-used quotes by LaVell came when he described quarterback sacks from games where BYU relied too heavily on the pass in desperation last-minute comebacks. Edwards would say,"when they know we have to pass, the defensive linemen just lay their ears back and come after us."
Writers often penned praise of LaVell, including this Deseret News editorial:
"But while the numbers are impressive and then some, they're not as impressive as the man. LaVell Edwards represents the best of college athletics. He has always put team over self and instilled values both on and off the field that are worthy of emulation by all, not just athletes.Football is losing a great coach. A great man remains."
Another Deseret News writer, Lee Benson, spent hours with Edwards in preparing the book, Airing It Out. Benson recently wrote,"Among the remarkable things LaVell Edwards accomplished while it appeared he wasn't accomplishing anything was breaking the color barrier at BYU.
"I think it typifies his genius. About now you're probably saying, 'What color barrier at BYU?'
"Precisely the point. It was LaVell who recruited BYU's first black player when, as an assistant coach to Tommy Hudspeth, he was dispatched to Chicago in the early 1960s to visit a bus driver-football star named Paul Devine. Not only did he get Devine to come to Provo, he got a whole lot of other black athletes to come over the years."
Bowl representatives used to fret about the conduct of opposing coaches. The usual order is losing coach goes first before the media. However, in pre-game planning, bowl officials always knew Edwards would remain unruffled and would flex with the situation.
Many can appreciate LaVell for the remarkable things he has done.