News outlets across the nation reflected on contributions LaVell Edwards made to football after news of his death was announced on Dec. 29, 2016.
Behind the scenes was LaVell’s sweet and loving wife, Patti, who stayed by his side as he switched jobs across the state of Utah until he became an assistant coach at BYU in 1962. Ten years later, he became the school’s head coach.
Patti Covey Edwards was born in Utah, but considers herself a Wyoming girl because that’s where she was raised.
Patti returned to Utah to attend Utah State University in 1950. LaVell was playing football for the Aggies as an offensive lineman at the time. Patti and LaVell were set up on a blind date, and for Patti, it was love at first sight.
“He just kind of represented everything that I wanted,” Patti said, smiling.
Patti said she was not the typical football fan. It was not until she and LaVell were on their way to Sun Valley, Idaho, for their honeymoon that Patti confessed to LaVell she had never actually seen him play a game of football.
“I am really a very honest person,” Patti said. “I had a friend that was interested in football, and I hated it.”
Patti’s friend would attend all of LaVell’s football games and report back to Patti all of his best plays.
“He really thought that I had seen every game that he had played,” she said. “It was on our honeymoon that I just thought, ‘I’ve got to tell him the truth.’ I’d never seen him play a game of football.”
Even during LaVell’s first five years coaching, Patti still hadn’t bought in, she said. She thought it was a hobby LaVell would grow out of. Patti said she thought she could convince Lavell to pick a different career path, even though she knew he wanted to be a coach.
“I thought that (football) was like the measles, and it would go away,” Patti said. “It didn’t.”
Patti’s parents had a successful business, servicing the county’s school buses and delivering oil to ranchers. As an only child, Patti said she knew her parents would offer their business to Lavell upon retiring. Patti realized football would be a part of her life forever when he turned down that offer, and she decided to jump in head first with football.
Life as a football coach’s wife was tough, and she learned quickly she’d need to be independent, Patti said. LaVell was gone much of the time and the responsibility fell on her to keep the home fires burning. She even drove herself home from the hospital after she had their third child.
“Looking back on it, I’m not sure how she did it,” said Patti’s daughter, Ann Cannon.
Patti said her relationship with LaVell was what kept her going.
“We always knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we were first,” Patti said. “We never knew if he won or lost a football game — he was the same. He was a husband, father and grandfather first, always, in every relationship.”
Patti and LaVell’s relationship affected all those around them. Cannon remembers her mom slipping notes into LaVell’s suitcase when he would leave to recruit for weeks at a time. Even their grandchildren saw how much they supported and loved each other.
“They were a power couple,”said Patti’s granddaughter Jayne Edwards. “It was always Patti and LaVell. They were a team.”
Patti always took the visiting coaches’ wives to dinner when they came to BYU. In 1987, BYU hosted the University of Pittsburgh. Patti took the coaches’ wives to Park City for dinner. She was walking down the street when Jackie Harbaugh, the wife of then Pittsburgh tight ends coach John Harbaugh, looked at Patti and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have get-togethers like this more often?”
At the time, LaVell was the president of the American Football Coaches Association, and Patti started an association for the coaches’ wives.
The American Football Coaches Wives Association was founded with a list of 50 names on a yellow notepad and Patti as the president. Now, 30 years later, there are more than 3,000 members.
Patti’s influence in the football world didn’t stop with just the coaches’ wives. Even though Patti was raising her own three children, she said she always made a point to take LaVell’s players under her wing.
“I kind of felt like they were my sons,” Patti said.
Patti hosted a dinner for the players’ wives every fall, but she opened her home to anyone who needed it. Cannon remembers any time players and their wives or girlfriends didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving, Patti would invite them to join her family for dinner.
Patti made sure to cut out every newspaper article that ever mentioned one of LaVell’s players. She would collect them, and then at the players’ graduation, she would hand them each a manila envelope with all of the cut-out articles in it and thank them for supporting her husband.
Everyone around the Edwards family realized it took a special woman to be LaVell’s wife. It was simply the life she was living, and she said she was happy doing it with LaVell by her side.
“The best thing about being married to LaVell was that I always knew I was first,” she said. “I always had his undying love.”