LaVell creates tradition of quarterbacks

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    By Ashlee LeSueur

    In 1973, when LaVell Edwards became BYU’s head football coach, a new tradition began.

    Not the tradition of blue and white on game day, of frowns and loyal LaVell followers, or the tradition of success, but the tradition that may have been the bunson burner beneath it all: the tradition of quarterbacks.

    Choosing to pass the football instead of running it was a conscious decision, Edwards said.

    He looked at the recruiting limitations BYU had as a private school and knew they had to do something different, he said.

    And that knowledge has made all the difference.

    Greats such as Gary Sheide, Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Robbie Bosco and Steve Sarkisian led BYU to victory and passed their way into college football history.

    But greater than bowl games and victory celebrations, are memories of the man who cheered for them from the sidelines.

    With respect and almost reverence, the men of the quarterback factory look past broadcasting and NFL careers, Super Bowl championships, and the lives they lead now– to the time they spent at BYU with Coach Edwards.

    Steve Young said his favorite memory of Edwards was the first time he met him.

    Young was on a recruiting trip and the last in a long line of people waiting to meet Edwards.

    “When it was finally my turn, he had been sitting in that chair, chewing on his tongue for a long time,” Young said.

    He remembers looking past the coach to the bookshelves behind him and noticing they were filled with spiritual books.

    “I had never seen a football coach be spiritual,” Young said. “When he was deciding whether or not to give me a scholarship he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He stayed that way for so long that I thought for sure he’d fallen asleep.”

    When he finally opened his eyes he looked at me and announced he was giving me a scholarship, Young said.

    Edwards said Young is the epitome of what every coach wants to have in a player.

    “His work ethic is unmatched. It made him the very best.”

    Edwards said he remembers each player individually and specifically.

    Sheide had more streaks than anyone Edwards ever saw and he looked like Joe Namath, Edwards said. Neilsen, although he had gangly knees, was the best all around athlete of the bunch.

    “He was a basketball player and he could golf, he was just a born athlete. But I was faster than he was,” Edwards said with a chuckle.

    Edwards said he remembers that Wilson had perfect position and was very symmetric, which was usually hard for tall guys.

    He said the perceptions people had of McMahon were not what he was all about.

    McMahon stuck a fork in his eye when he was young, that’s why he wore those glasses, Edwards said.

    “He only had 25 to 30 percent vision in that one eye, but he had the greatest vision of field,” Edwards said. “I have enormous respect for him. I like him very much.”

    Edwards said Detmer is one of the “totally delightful guys you’ll ever coach,” that he smiled all the time and yet was so tough.

    Bosco is quiet, but very skilled, Edwards said.

    “Robbie won us the national championship,” Edwards said.

    Edwards said Sarkisian had to learn it all his first year since he came from a junior college and then in his senior year helped produce one of the “best teams ever”.

    Through all their differences in personality and skills on the field, Edwards said all the members of the quarter back factory could pass.

    “He has the unique ability to see the good in people and bring it out,” Young said.

    Sarkisian, not a member of the LDS Church, said it was Edwards that got him to come to BYU.

    “The honesty and integrity of LaVell Edwards in recruiting me was the most compelling edge that BYU had over any other school,” Sarkisian said.

    He said Edwards taught him to be a leader by exuding confidence and bringing it out in others.

    “There is no doubt about it– he is the greatest coach I’ve ever played for. He is a great man and that makes him a great coach,” Sarkisian said.

    McMahon said Edwards called him into his office every Monday morning to discuss complaints about the partying he had supposedly done over the weekend.

    “Eventually it got to be a big joke,” McMahon said. “I couldn’t have been all those places and LaVell knew it. We both knew we had a lot of respect for each other. He trusted me.”

    Echoing McMahon’s praise, Neilsen said Edwards’ greatest quality is trust.

    “He had total belief in what we were trying to do– not only on the field, but in life and in school. He trusted us to be prepared in every asset of life,” Nielsen said. “Those players who accepted his example and counsel flourished. I cannot thank him enough for the part he played in creating such a strong foundation in my life and because of what I learned from him, I was able to bless the lives of many people along my course.”

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