LaVell Edwards: A Personal Reflection

Tribune file photo BYU Coach LaVell Edwards checks the clock during a game against the Washington Huskies in 1999.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that 2016 claimed yet another victim. LaVell Edwards, that rock of BYU football, died today.

He coached BYU from 1972 (before I was born) until 2000 (when I graduated from BYU). I grew up watching his teams (and the UCLA Bruins) play football on fall Saturdays with my dad and, as a student at BYU, I went to almost every home game.

I never met him while I was at BYU; my sole access to (and image of) him was cutaway shots to him on the sidelines, unsmiling, arms folded over his chest. 

Imagine my surprise, then, meeting him and Patti, his wife, at church in Manhattan.

LaVell and Patti served in Manhattan as public affairs missionaries from 2002-2003, shortly after my wife and I married. Our ward was their home ward. And the strangest thing was, he was always smiling. (My wife, not a college football watcher, was shocked when I told her I’d never seen him smile. She had never seen him not smiling.)

Over the year and a half they spent in New York, I got to know them casually. Things I remember: both were warm and generous, both worked hard and integrated into both the Mormon and the New York community (he helped restart and coach the Harlem Hellfighters high school football team). In my (limited) experience with him, he was humble and kind.

For a couple generations of football fans, LaVell Edwards was the face of Mormonism. And his is a sad face to lose.

[N.b.: many of you know far more about Edwards and football than I; my brush with LaVell Edwards was not life-changing, but it was certainly a positive contribution to who I am. I’d love to hear, in the comments, what he meant to you.]

Comments

  1. This was a nice remembrance. I never met him, but have family who played for him. A great legacy.

  2. Beautiful piece. I never met him myself, but I loved the type of players he created. I loved his humility as a coach. He was truly gifted and we on the sidelines were blessed by it.

  3. pdmallamoyahoocom says:

    We weren’t simply devoted to LaVell and BYU football, we were full-on fanatics, hooligans (albeit
    w/o hooliganism). Was there a better Saint than LaVell? I think not – wildly innovative & successful w/o a trace of pride or vanity; who sometimes (if my lip reading was accurate) cussed on the sidelines while simultaneously radiating a pure soul & heart of gold. I love this man for his humanity, his character and his example. Who do I want to be like when I finally grow up? That would be LaVell Edwards.

  4. I too watched LaVell Edwards stand stony-faced on the sidelines when I was a BYU student, and then I too moved to New York and ended up in the same ward with him and his wife, Pat. I found both of them to be friendly and unassuming. I remember one Sunday shortly before they went home they were asked to speak in sacrament meeting, and LaVell shared some of his experiences with the Harlem Hellfighters, the football team to which Sam refers. He’d used some of his connections to help them get the equipment they needed, which arrived right before their first game; he said the coaches strapped the players into their gear and sent them out onto the field. Then I saw something you probably wouldn’t believe if you’d only ever seen him down on the sidelines, but it’s the memory that sticks with me the most: this laugh sort of came up from nowhere, pushed its way out in one blurt, then another, and another, and then he couldn’t stop.

    They’d left NYC by the time the Hellfighters had their year-end banquet, which was held in our cultural hall. LaVell flew back for the occasion and was the keynote speaker (he talked about Steve Young and work ethic, as I recall). It wasn’t publicized, but his efforts with the Hellfighters, whose numbers included a local politician’s son, helped smooth the way for the LDS chapel that was subsequently built in Harlem.