Column: We need a LaVell Edwards statue at BYU

Statues are the highest honor in all of sports.

Think about it — of all the hall of famers, legends and heroes across every sport, only a handful have their likeness immortalized in bronze. It takes a certain degree of greatness to merit such a tribute that stands forever.

So why doesn’t BYU have a LaVell Edwards statue?

We all know the stadium is already named after him. When Edwards retired in 2000, renaming the stadium was a fitting gesture.

Today, it’s not enough. Edwards more than deserves his own statue in Provo.

Graphic by Jackson Payne

Of the top 40 winningest coaches in college football history (a list on which Edwards ranks eighth), 24 have statues built at their school. Of those 24, 19 have fewer wins than Edwards, and 14 have the same or fewer number of national championships. Steve Spurrier, Hayden Fry, Vince Dooley, Frank Beamer and Gary Patterson are among those with statues — but not LaVell.

In my research, I found that six coaches have both statues and a stadium named after them. Only the legendary Bear Bryant won more games than Edwards within that group, and two coaches had less wins and the same or fewer number of national titles. No conversation of the most illustrious coaches in college football history is complete without Edwards, and everyone knows it.

So what gives?

BYU’s current statues include Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Karl G. Maeser, Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag Tribe and the eerie 1950s family between the the Wilkinson and Kennedy Centers that always seemingly shames me for not having a wife. Brothers Brigham and Joseph are clear choices for statues, but you’d think that someone as synonymous with BYU as Young himself such as Edwards would be another obvious candidate.

In addition, BYU has three statues of cougars around campus: One outside Edwards Stadium, one in front of the Student Athlete Building, and the life-sized Cosmo idol with human feet in the bookstore. How on earth are there three cougar statues at BYU when an Edwards monument is nowhere to be found?

BYU has three cougar statues on campus — including one of Cosmo with human feet at the BYU store — but yet has no statue of LaVell Edwards. (Preston Crawley)

At this point, it’s not just that LaVell deserves a statue — it’s really rather upsetting that he doesn’t already have one.

It’s been 50 years since Edwards took the reins of BYU’s football program. Not only did he turn the Cougars into a national force, but he pioneered the “air raid” offense that changed football forever. You’d be hard pressed to watch a football game these days that didn’t feature some sort of LaVell influence. Members of his coaching tree are still peppered across the NCAA and NFL, winning Super Bowls and national championships while carrying LaVell’s legacy to further generations.

Edwards coached 34 All-Americans — averaging more than one per season — with seven selections at quarterback. How many other coaches can say they developed seven All-American quarterbacks? If BYU wanted to get really crazy with this statue, it could recreate the famous “quarterback factory” photo of Edwards and put Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer and Steve Sarkisian on the conveyor belt behind him.

Excessive? Maybe a bit, but just blame LaVell for producing so many prolific passers. That’s statue-worthy.

LaVell Edwards operated the nation’s “quarterback factory” at BYU in the 1970s and 80s. (Photo courtesy of BYU)

LaVell was a man of high character who embodied the university’s mission and purpose. He was a stalwart Latter-day Saint and advocate for service and loving one another. His career accomplishments may be impressive, but they’re meaningless when compared to how he shaped the lives of his players.

“It’s not about the wins, not about the touchdown passes, not about the tackles players made.. it’s how he treated us as human beings and the impact he had on all of our lives to make us better men, better people,” Bosco said at Edwards’ funeral service in January 2017.

Statue-worthy.

Have I mentioned 1984 yet?

BYU would not be headed to the Big 12 next year without LaVell Edwards. BYU might not even have a football program today if not for LaVell, let alone a 63,000 seat stadium in his name that’s missing a statue it desperately needs.

I suggest that either during pregame or halftime of BYU’s homecoming football showdown with Arkansas on Oct. 15, there needs to be a brief ceremony of sorts. Have President Worthen come to midfield with a representative from the Church, one of LaVell’s former quarterbacks and his widow, Patti. The four of them should speak on LaVell’s legacy at BYU to mark the 50-year anniversary of his hiring, following which President Worthen would announce the addition of a new statue of Edwards to be unveiled outside the stadium before BYU’s first Big 12 home game in 2023. When that day comes, all of LaVell’s living former players should be invited to attend and pack the stands.

You could place the statue right outside of gate one on the southwest corner of the stadium, giving fans the chance to pass LaVell’s likeness as they enter his hallowed ground. It’s LaVell’s house, and his statue needs to watch over it.

Gate one outside LaVell Edwards Stadium, where I propose a statue of Edwards should be placed in front of the stairs. (Jackson Payne)

There’s no better way to mark 50 years since the beginning of Edwards’ BYU tenure and open the program’s Big 12 era than a LaVell Edwards statue, and there’s no one more deserving of a statue than LaVell.

After all, a statue is the highest honor in sports. It’s time we make sure LaVell receives that honor.

Jackson Payne is the lead columnist at Daily Universe Sports. Follow him on Twitter @jackson5payne.

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