PROVO, Utah – Legendary BYU head football coach LaVell Edwards passed away Thursday morning at the age of 86 surrounded by his wife Patti and his family.
“I love LaVell Edwards. He came into my life, and the life of many others, at just the right time,” BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe said. “I had the influence of a great coach, a wonderful person, a disciple of Christ, a loyal family man and a true friend, from the day I met him until the day he passed away. LaVell had a pure heart. He was the dream coach of every parent. His example will forever be with me and I will strive to live a life of love as he always did.”
Known for his stoic sideline demeanor and quick-witted humor, Edwards was once labeled by USA Today as a “national coaching treasure.” Beloved not only in coaching circles and all of Cougar Nation, but especially by the many hundreds of players under his tutelage, including current head coach Kalani Sitake who was a fullback and team captain for the Cougars.
“I was saddened to hear that LaVell passed away this morning,” BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake said. “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 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.”
Undaunted by the formidable rebuilding task that lay ahead, Edwards wasted little time in transforming BYU into a national power, pioneering an aggressive and innovative passing attack that led BYU to conference titles in 19 of 29 seasons and an overall record of 257-101-3.
In his first season as the head coach, he gave BYU fans a glimpse of the future. Edwards led the Cougars to a 7-4 overall record, including a 16-7 win over in-state rival Utah. Just two seasons later, Edwards had the team rolling. The Cougars won the WAC Championship after a 48-20 victory over the Utes and accepted an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl -- the team's first-ever bowl appearance, starting a run of 22 bowls in 29 years. The 1974 season turned out to be the first of 27 straight non-losing seasons.
After recording an 11-1 record in 1979, a 12-1 record in 1980 another 11-win season in 1981, eight more wins in '82, and 11 additional wins in 1983, Edwards led BYU to a perfect 13-0 season in 1984. Following a 24-17 win over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl, the Cougars were crowned national champions. Not surprisingly, Edwards was named the National Coach of the Year for the second time in his career.
Under his direction, BYU recorded 10 straight WAC championships from 1976 through 1985. The Cougars also played in 17 consecutive bowl games from 1978 until 1994.
On New Year’s Day in 1997, BYU set an NCAA record with 14 victories after winning the Cotton Bowl to cap the 1996 season in a thrilling 19-15 victory over No. 15 Kansas State. BYU finished ranked No. 5 nationally – its highest finish since the 1984 title.
The Cougars won 18 WAC championships under Edwards and the inaugural Mountain West Conference title in 1999.
Edwards announced his retirement prior to the 2000 season but BYU would honor him by renaming Cougar Stadium to LaVell Edwards Stadium prior to the final home game of the year on Nov. 18. A banner bearing the new name was unveiled in a pregame ceremony conducted by President Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A week later BYU sent Edwards into retirement with one more magical moment. Trailing Utah 27-26 in Salt Lake City with 23 seconds left, quarterback Brandon Doman kept it and ran up the right side for a 7-yard touchdown to send Edwards out a winner in his final game. Edwards was carried off the field by his players in a touching moment to end his Cougar career.
Edwards coached one Heisman Trophy winner, two Outland Trophy recipients, four Davey O’Brien awardees, seven Sammy Baugh Trophy Winners, 31 All-Americans and four College Football Hall of Famers. BYU’s success didn’t come without personal reward for Edwards either. He was 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.
Following his coaching career, Edwards continued his life of service with a full-time LDS mission with his wife Patti to New York City from 2002-2003. He also served on several committees and boards for various college football awards and governing bodies since his retirement.
"LaVell’s humble, humorous and loving character inspired not only his players, but countless others as well," BYU President Kevin J Worthen said. "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.”
The eighth of 14 children, Edwards graduated from Lincoln High School in Orem. He attended Utah State University, where he was an all-conference lineman before serving a two-year commitment in the Army. He and his wife Patti recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. The Edwards have three children, Ann [Cannon], John and Jim.
In lieu of flowers the Edwards family kindly request donations be made to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Utah County. For information go to bgcutah.org.