To say BYU football suffered a great loss wouldn’t do it justice. To say the state of Utah suffered a great loss wouldn’t do it either.
College football as a sport suffered a tremendous loss.
But the biggest loss will be felt by the thousands of people LaVell Edwards influenced, whether it’s his family, players or those fortunate enough to have met him.
Edwards died on Dec. 29. The legendary Cougar coach was the most recognizable BYU football figure of the last 40+ years. His stoic demeanor, with arms folded on the sidelines is etched into the memories of every BYU Cougar fan.
The stadium bears his name. CBS, Fox Sports and ESPN ran tributes to him, as did every major publication in Utah.
He was a legend. He is a legend.
Edwards led BYU football for 29 seasons, from 1972-2000. He won 257 games — ranking No. 7 in NCAA Division-I history — and the 1984 National Championship. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake played and was a captain for Edwards.
“I was saddened to hear that LaVell passed away this morning,” Sitake said shortly after the news broke. “My thoughts and prayers are with Patti and the entire family. As I have expressed many times, LaVell had a tremendous impact on me, not only as a player and as a coach, but even more importantly as a person. That is LaVell. He had an impact on so many lives, and not just as a coach, but as a person. So many people – players, coaches, fans, the entire BYU family, coaching colleagues and opponents – will tell you they are a better person because of him, and I’m definitely one of them. We all love LaVell and appreciate the amazing legacy he leaves with each of us.”
Edwards came to BYU from Granite High School in 1962 as an assistant. In 1972 he became the head coach after the resignation of Tommy Hudspeth. Edwards took the reigns of a dilapidated BYU football program (173-232-23 before Edwards) and turned them into a national powerhouse (257-101-3 under Edwards). The Cougars had never been to a bowl game before Edwards took over, and he led them to 22.
He was 7-14-1 in those bowl games, but he was at the helm for the biggest moments in program history.
In the 1980 Holiday Bowl the Cougars, led by quarterback Jim McMahon, rallied from a 45-25 deficit with just four minutes remaining to defeat SMU 46-45. McMahon threw for 446 yards and was the co-MVP of the game.
In the 1983 Holiday Bowl, Steve Young led BYU to a 21-17 win over Missouri, wrapping up a 10-1 season. Young was named MVP, racking up a touchdown pass, touchdown run and touchdown catch in the game.
1984 brought a National Championship to Provo. Quarterback Robbie Bosco helped defeat the Michigan Wolverines 24-17. At the conclusion of the 1984 regular season, the Cougars were the only undefeated team in Division-I football. However, the Western Athletic Conference was considered a lesser league and some felt BYU hadn’t played a tough enough schedule to earn the title. After defeating the Wolverines, Edwards and the Cougars were awarded the consensus National Championship.
In 1994, John Walsh was behind center, leading the Cougars over Oklahoma in the Copper Bowl 31-6. Walsh threw for 454 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
The 1996 BYU football team is arguably the greatest of all-time. The Cougars went 14-1 and became the first team in history to play 15 games in one season. BYU spent 13 weeks that season ranked in the Top 25 and defeated No. 20 Wyoming in the WAC Championship and No. 14 Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. The Cougars finished ranked No. 5.
Edwards finished under .500 just once during his tenure and won nine or more games in a season 16 times. He coached one Heisman Trophy winner, seven Sammy Baugh Trophy winners, four Davey O’Brien Award winners, two Outland Trophy winners, 31 All-Americans and four College Football Hall of Famers.
After Edwards retired, he served an LDS mission with his wife Patti in New York City from 2002 to 2003. He also served on a number of committees and boards for different college football awards.
“LaVell’s humble, humorous and loving character inspired not only his players, but countless others as well,” said BYU President Kevin J Worthen. “All who knew him considered him a friend. He was a personal mentor to All-Americans and walk-ons alike. His positive impact reached well beyond BYU and well beyond college football. Cougar Nation and numerous others mourn his passing. We extend our condolences to Patti and the Edwards family.”
Edwards retired in 2000 after winning 18 WAC titles and the inaugural Mountain West Conference title. BYU renamed Cougar Stadium in his honor on Nov. 18, 2000. His final game was a 34-27 victory over Utah. The Cougars trailed the Utes 27-26 in Salt Lake City with 23 seconds left. Quarterback Brandon Doman hit Jonathan Pittman with back-to-back 30-yard passes, then scrambled in from seven yards out, giving the Cougars the win.
He graduated from Lincoln High School in Orem and attended Utah State University and the University of Utah.
Edwards died surrounded by family. His wife Patti said his death was due to complications from breaking his hip on Christmas Eve. He and Patti recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary and the couple has three children, Ann, John and Jim.