They call him a legend. The football stadium bears his name, and he was the fifth most-winningest coach in NCAA history at the time of his retirement in 2000. Yet he is as welcoming and approachable as an old friend.
Accomplishments of LaVell Edwards
LaVell Edwards coached the BYU football team for 29 seasons (1972–2000). He has 257 career victories and is ranked as one of the most successful college football coaches of all time. Edwards was named the State of Utah’s Coach of the Century and was inducted as a member of of the State of Utah Sports Hall of Fame. He was also named NCAA District 8 Coach of the Year eight times, Bobby Dodd national coach of the Year in 1979 and AFCA National Coach of the Year in 1984.
Perhaps his crowning achievement was coaching the 1984 national championship team. Now, 15 years after he retired, he has other ways to be successful.
Life after football
Edwards said he loves having more time to relax with his family. Making family a priority has always been his goal. His wife has ever been an anchor for him in his career and with the family.
“Patti wanted me to be home. So, when I was home, I was home. I wasn’t stewing and fretting about how practice was or how the game went,” Edwards said. “Football was always important, no question about that. But it was not the No. 1 thing in my life. Family and church … those kinds of things were a lot more important. I tried to never bring problems home.”
The Edwardses served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York City in the public affairs department just two years after he retired as a BYU coach.
While they served, Edwards was approached by a man who knew of his background and asked for help in starting a football team at a nearby high school in Harlem. Edwards talked to the mission director about this idea.
“I didn’t go on a mission to get involved in football,” he said. But he said his director gave his wholehearted endorsement, saying it would be a great opportunity.
Edwards helped get the team going, and the missionaries found it opened many doors for missionary work. Helping with the football team improved the attitude many had toward Mormons. There are now a few wards in the area, and Edwards was part of that growth. Edwards said he loves that the Lord can use any means to move His work along, even something like his own coaching background.
The heart of the game is the people
Edwards said he loved being the BYU football coach, but he said it was not just because his team was dominating the football world with wins.
“I rarely ever think about games won or lost, or even about championships. What I think about often are the people and what they are doing with their lives,” Edwards said with a smile.
His players knew he was more than a coach to them. “LaVell was a great coach and an even better human being,” said Dan Plater, who played on the team from 1978 to 1982 as an all-conference wide receiver. Plater said Edwards was loved by his players because of the way he tended to them as individuals.
Danny Hansen, who played on the team from 1976 to 1979 as an all-conference offensive lineman, shared an experience with Edwards 10 years after he had finished football. Hansen and his 10-year-old son were roaming BYU’s football facilities, reminiscing about his playing days. As they headed back to the car, a white car pulled up next to them. It was Edwards.
Hansen said in the 10 years since graduation, he hadn’t been good at keeping in contact with Edwards, yet Edwards looked at Hansen, called him by his first name and asked what he was up to.
Edwards invited Hansen and his son up to his office where they chatted for more than an hour. When people came to talk to Edwards, if he was busy he told them he would get back to them as soon as he could, Hansen said.
“While playing for Coach Edwards, and especially now, I know that he is genuinely concerned about all of the young men that played for him,” Hansen said. “I know that he wants all of us to be successful in all that we do, whether it was on the field then, or in our careers and families now.”
Edwards is known for his high flying-passing offense, but how he got there is a bit ironic. He was a single-wing offensive lineman at Utah State. The single wing was an old-style offense designed to only run the ball. When Edwards came to BYU, they were running the single-wing offense. He joked that he was hired by BYU because he was the only Mormon who knew the single wing.
When he became head coach he determined to become a passing offense. This brought wins — a lot of them. The BYU team was called “pass happy,” Edwards said. He was one of the pioneers who changed the game of college football to the passing-heavy offenses now run by most teams. “We are definitely considered a team that got the passing popularized,” Edwards said.
Edwards said he enjoyed the process of helping a team develop. “There is great satisfaction that comes from taking something raw and shaping it into a winning team,” he said. When the football team began practice in the spring, Edwards would take a look at the group and wonder, “Are we ever going to make a team out of this?”
He said it is beautiful to see the way the team develops as football season comes along. Edwards always tried to care for the individual while building a team. “You don’t want to destroy self image or individuality, but you have to make sure that it is in line and that the team comes first,” Edwards said.
Another heartwarming example of Edwards’ concern for his players is how he viewed the scout team. The scout team is the group of players who prepare the starters for the game. These scout team players will seldom see playing time.
Yet Edwards spoke of his concern for these players and the efforts he made to help them feel part of the team and encourage them in positive ways. “A key to our success was to keep the scout teams happy and working hard,” Edwards said. “The quality of our scout teams had a big bearing on the quality of our starting team.”
Enjoying the game
Edwards said he loves to watch the BYU games and was happy to be given a box seat for football games so he can sit with his family and not be asked questions about what he thinks should be happening on the field.
“I don’t try to analyze the game. I don’t try to figure out the rationale for each play. I just thoroughly enjoy watching the game. I watch the ball and don’t study it anymore,” he said.
He said he likes being more free. He doesn’t have to go home and worry about the game like he did for so many years.
Edwards is remembered for what he did as a football coach. More than that, he will be remembered for the way he cared for other people, not just about winning football games, Scott Phillips, who played on the team from 1977 to 1980 said.
Edwards said he didn’t only want to coach people on the field, but he wanted to coach his players through life. He was worried about them as people, not just as players.
“Coach Edwards not only helped develop me as a football player but was also a great mentor. I left BYU as a better person because of him,” Robbie Bosco, starting quarterback in 1984 on the national championship team, said.
Edwards said he hopes he can be remembered for more than just being a good football coach. “I want people to remember me for the way I treated people — the way I worked with other people in a profession that had a hand in helping people realize their potential,” he said.