Despite the recent break-up of the football series bewteen BYU and the University of Utah, another relationship continues. LaVell Edwards and the former Utah athletic director prove friendship between rivals is a class act shown by legendary men.
Arnie Ferrin served as athletic director for the University of Utah during the late ’70s to mid ’80s at the same time as the glory days of BYU football. Edwards and Ferrin met through a mutual friend on the golf course. Since that meeting, Edwards and Ferrin, despite their rivalry difference, have vacationed and golfed together in Palm Springs for nearly 25 years.
“People would always be surprised,” Ferrin said. “And I would always explain to them that (Edwards) wasn’t at all a bad guy. And that Patti made it worthwhile.”
Edwards was equally amiable towards Ferrin.
“He’s a very likable guy,” Edwards said, “He’s fun to be with. He’s got a subtle sense of humor. We always banter back and forth.”
The rivalry between BYU and Utah added fuel to the friendly banter. A friend of Ferrin’s purchased a professional football team and wondered whether or not Edwards would be willing to coach it. Ferrin did his best to convince Edwards he should take the job. “Let me tell you that you can make more money in three years coaching that team than you’ll make the rest of your life at BYU,” Ferrin bantered.
When Edwards still refused, Ferrin’s jesting continued: “Well, if the money’s not enough, I suppose I can get a lot of the Utah fans to contribute money just to get rid of you.”
Edwards, the engineer of a quarterback factory, and Ferrin, a symbol of University of Utah athletic excellence, have much in common. Ferrin, like Edwards, is decorated with multiple athletic honors. Framed photos of championship teams, hall of fame inductions and retired jerseys hang neatly on the wall of Ferrin’s office. The room is red and autographed basketballs adorn the tops of file cabinets.
“My claim to fame is that I drafted Moses Malone out of high school,” Ferrin said of his time as general manager of the ABA’s Utah Stars.
Despite his modesty, his claim to fame in the basketball world is broader than just that. He is one of two people to ever win an NCAA Championship, an NIT Championship and an NBA Championship. Ferrin attributes his basketball skills to his adolescent years when kids either played outside or at stake centers for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“If you lived in Utah, every stake center had a basketball court,” Ferrin said. “If you drove around the town in the ’40s or around the state in the ’40s, every barn had a basketball hoop on it. And when we were young it was just the thing that you did, to play basketball. It wasn’t a created interest.”
In 1944, the Ute basketball team won the NCAA basketball championship. They claimed the distinction of being the only team to win the championship while starting four freshman. Ferrin earned Most Outstanding Player of the championship game. Only three other freshman have ever earned MOP: Pervis Ellison, Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis.
“As a player, he had all those qualities you like to be in a talented person — willing to work hard and share the ball,” said Wat Misaka, a former Ute teammate and longtime friend. “(He) wasn’t looking for all the glory.”
Misaka was the first non-Caucasian basketball player to play in the NBA. Ferrin and Misaka have remained friends for nearly 70 years.
“We were just members of a team in the beginning,” Misaka said. “Over the years our friendship has really blossomed into something that’s really special.”
Ferrin also led the Utes to the 1947 NIT Championship with a win over the University of Kentucky, led by legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Interestingly enough, that Kentucky team won the gold medal while representing the United States in the 1948 Olympics in London, the most recent time the Olympics were held in that city until this year.
Ferrin initially decided not to play professionally. The salary structure for professional basketball did not provide a lot of financial incentive. Ferrin was invited to participate in a game between the college all-stars and the NBA champion. Ferrin won the most valuable player award, and decided to become a professional. “It got in my blood,” he said.
Ferrin then signed a contract with the Minneapolis Lakers. Before he signed he wanted assurance he would play.
“I asked the Lakers people, ‘If I sign, how do you see how I’d fit in with the team? Will I have a chance to play,'” Ferrin said.
Because of their positive response, Ferrin chose the NBA’s Lakers over the ABA team from the same area, and went on to win two NBA Championships with them.
“I prayed about it a lot,” Ferrin said. “Fate is interesting. The next year the other team was out of business because the leagues had merged.”
Ferrin served on the NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee for six years during his tenure as Athletics Director at Utah. After which, he served as a consultant to CBS when they negotiated with the NCAA for the first billion-dollar television contract between a network and a major sporting event. In 2008, Ferrin was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame along with former NBA star Charles Barkley and sportscaster Dick Vitale.
Although representing rival schools, the relationship of Ferrin and Edwards has revolved around friendship.
“I don’t know how you meet your friends or what makes them friends, but he has sure been a wonderful friend for me,” Ferrin said.