Flashback: A Tribute To LaVell Edwards

The honors and awards for former Brigham Young Cougars head coach LaVell Edwards just keep on coming. Edwards was honored during halftime of the BCS National Championship game January 10 as the 2011 recipient of the Football Bowl Association (FBA) Champions Award. One year ago, the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA) awarded Edwards with the 2009 Contributions to College Football Award. Back in 2003, the American Football Coaches Association awarded him the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award.

As represented by these awards, LaVell Edwards has an indisputable place in the coaching ranks as one of the greatest college football coaches of all-time. Nearly 40 years ago, when BYU had an opening for the head coaching job, the job requirements weren’t so ambitious. Following the 1971 season, the BYU football program had an all-time record of 173-235-23 (0.424), had a 5-38-4 series record with arch-rival Utah, had just 16 winning seasons since 1922, had a whopping one conference championship, and had never been invited to a bowl game. Not too many people were lining up for this job.

One man, however, harbored a pretty strong desire to be the next head coach at Brigham Young University. That man was the current defensive coordinator—LaVell Edwards. Edwards had been on staff since 1962 as an assistant coach.

Even at this time, BYU faced unique challenges for success. These challenges were the patent excuses used to rationalize the failures of the program. When he was hired, Edwards took a stand. BYU was going to stop using these challenges as excuses and do something dramatic—win. During his tenure as an assistant coach, Edwards witnessed 25% of BYU’s 16 winning seasons. With a degree in education, Edwards was no slouch. He had noticed that BYU had a different offensive philosophy during these winning seasons as they had during the losing seasons. That philosophy was to throw the ball. Therefore, Edwards chose to live or die by the forward pass.

Edwards wasn’t looking to revolutionize BYU football, let alone the entire sport. He was just trying to consistently win more than he lost. The results speak for themselves. He won more games (257) than all previous BYU coaches combined. He ranks sixth on the all-time coaching victories list. He won 19 conference championships, including 10 in a row from 1976-1985. Edwards coached BYU to their first bowl game and 22 bowl games overall, including 17 consecutive bowl appearances from 1978-1994. He is one of very few coaches to win 100 games in a decade. He recorded victories over many of the marquee college football programs, such as Miami (number one at the time), Penn State, Texas, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, and everyone in the Pac-10 except the two he never faced (USC and Stanford).

Before schools like Florida and Florida State ever tasted a national championship, Edwards reached the pinnacle and won a national title in 1984. Every major poll had BYU ranked number one. BYU became a regular in the national rankings finishing the year in the final polls 14 times. Eight other years, BYU was ranked sometime during the season. Prior to Edwards’ arrival, BYU was lucky just to fall in the “others receiving votes” category.

In 1979 and 1984, Edwards received national recognition as the national coach of the year.

Many of Edwards’ players were ordinary guys, but after playing under him they left as All-Americans (37 citations), Outland Trophy Winners (2), Heisman Trophy finalists (and one even won the award), Sammy Baugh and Davey O’Brien award winners. Five of his former players have joined Edwards in the College Football Hall of Fame.

The mark of a great coach is not just in the wins and loses, but also in the way he helps his players mature and become men. Edwards was a master of molding character and teaching life lessons by connecting with his players on a personal level. Most, if not all, will say they left BYU a better person when they arrived, and Edwards played a huge role in that.

From 1972-2000, Edwards became the face of the BYU football program. Edwards was the architect of the BYU football program, so it is only fitting that the sports’ largest architectural structure bears his name—LaVell Edwards Stadium. 

It is no surprise that national organizations continue to find cause to honor BYU’s own LaVell Edwards. What he did is nothing short of a miracle. He has a spot in BYU football, and the hearts of millions worldwide, that can never be erased.

More flashbacks can be found on the Flashbacks page.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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