Many looked back to the history of BYU football that legendary coach LaVell Edwards created as news spread across the country that he had passed away.
Although Edwards put BYU on the map in the football world, former players, coaches and fans remembered him not only for his football career, but also for the example he set off the field.
Edwards’ life was a life of service.
Both Patti and LaVell Edwards spent years giving back to the Boys and Girls Club of Utah County. LaVell had sponsored the club’s benefit golf tournament, while Patti served as a member and president of the board of the directors for a few years.
It was no surprise when the Edwards family asked everyone in the community to donate money to the Boys and Girls Club of Utah County instead of sending flowers to LaVell’s funeral.
“I’ve always been an advocate for children,” Patti said. “So I started becoming involved (with the Boys and Girls Club) in 1999.”
Patti said she always believed children need a safe place to go after school. In an interview with the Daily Universe, she told a story about a little girl who wanted to join the Utah County Boys and Girls Club, but could not pay the required $5 fee.
Patti later found out the little girl had been living with her mother and two other siblings in a car for two years and were eating out of cans. Patti was able to step in and refer them to social services.
Patti said it took her some time to find her groove in her new position, but added it was all worth it.
“I just felt like there were things that needed to be done,” Patti said. “When I first started, it was kind of floundering, but I could see the results from the effect of the Boys and Girls Club, so I felt like it was worthwhile.”
Now, both LaVell and Patti are honorary board members of the Utah County Boys and Girls Club.
Since May 2000, LaVell, with the help of Kent Nelson, sponsored golf tournaments for the Boys and Girls Club. Friends and fans of Edwards would join the tournament and play golf with Edwards, including former players like Chad Lewis and Robbie Bosco.
“Whenever LaVell or Patti would ask for help with either a golf tournament or to speak to the kids or something, it was easy for everyone to say, ‘Yes, I’ll be right there,'” Lewis said. “They weren’t asking you to do anything too difficult, they were just asking you to help.”
Lewis, who was born the year before Edwards was named head coach at BYU, quite literally spent his entire childhood following Edwards’ coaching career.
“My entire life — watching TV, listening to the radio — he was my coach,” Lewis said.
Lewis joined the BYU football team as a walk-on in 1993, but left with 111 receptions. To Lewis, it was one of the greatest honors of his life to actually get to play for the legendary coach.
But for Lewis — and many other Cougars — it wasn’t just football. They enjoyed watching the example Edwards set for them.
“It didn’t have to be in a monetary form, but it was giving back to the community, helping out people and serving others,” said Bosco, who led the Cougars to the 1984 National Championship. “He led by example.”
When Edwards was not doing things related to football, he was always out in the community speaking to schools or visiting hospitals. But some of Edwards’ service was done in private.
Lewis recalled during his career in the NFL coming back to BYU in the offseason and talking to Edwards’ secretary Shirley Johnson. Lewis remembered a time when Johnson emphasized how much time Edwards put into serving others.
“She would just comment, ‘You guys have no idea how much LaVell was doing and helping people,'” Lewis said. “Because he never told anyone; he just did it, and that includes driving out to Vernal or Cedar City (to help people).”
Lewis agreed with Johnson.
“He was helping people,” Lewis said. “He would do it one by one. He would do it one school at a time. One fireside at a time, but his life was constant service.”
When asked about her husband’s legacy at BYU, Patti didn’t mention football. While LaVell’s 257 career victories will always be in the record books, he made a much larger impact off the field.
“I think he made (the players) better men because they saw a good man,” Patti said. “I think he treated his players with dignity and I think he respected them as who they were and tried to bring out the best in them.”
Edwards was known for his stoic demeanor on the sidelines. Arms folded, borderline scowl across his face. Seemingly nothing could happen on the field to get an emotional rise from him. But Lewis said Edwards was a loving and caring man.
“The biggest takeaway from LaVell, as a person and as a coach, is love,” Lewis said.
Lewis added that Edwards wasn’t the “lovey-dovey” or “emotional” type, but he knew how his legendary coach felt about him.
“Man,” Lewis said. “I knew he loved me.”