LaVell Edwards, head football coach at BYU from 1972 to 2000, dies at 86

From Deseret News

LaVell Edwards, the head football coach at BYU from 1972 to 2000 who led the Cougars to the college football national championship in 1984, died on Dec. 29, 2016. He was 86.

Coach Edwards was born Oct. 11, 1930, to Philo and Addie Edwards and spent most of his life in Utah County. He graduated from Lincoln High in Orem before attending Utah State University. In Logan, LaVell became a football star. He played linebacker and center and was soon named team captain. He was an all-conference lineman before serving a two-year commitment in the Army.

In Logan he met Patti Covey from Wyoming, who would become his wife. They have three children, Ann Cannon, John and Jim.

After 29 seasons and 257 wins at BYU when he retired, Coach Edwards ranked as the sixth all-time winningest coach. When hired at BYU, the Cougars had won just 173 games the previous 49 years, with just one conference championship and no bowl invitations. By his retirement, BYU had 22 bowl appearances and 20 league titles.

Elder S. Gifford Nielson, General Authority Seventy, played football under Coach Edwards. “This is a tender time for those of us who knew and loved Coach LaVell Edwards. The lessons we learned from him extended far beyond a football field. He taught us how to succeed in football and, more importantly, how to become leaders in our families, communities and, for many of us, in our church service,” Elder Nielsen told the Deseret News on Dec. 30.

Of Coach Edwards, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “No coach, nor leader of young men generally, could have represented his University nor his Church more professionally than did LaVell, a special LDS professionalism that put his religious faith at the center of his life, then added a conscientious work ethic, a kind and fun-loving personality, and unfailing loyalty to his [family.] The simple fact of the matter is LaVell lived his religion with admirable devotion whether on the field, off the field, in the locker room, on a recruiting tour, in his home or in an LDS worship service. As University President, I knew that LaVell Edwards would conduct himself with honor and integrity in any setting.”

Coach Edwards faithfully fufilled several callings in the Church. During his time as coach at BYU, he served as a student ward bishop for six years, and considered it a special time. “I really enjoyed working with the students and helping them grow and overcome challenges. I pretty much did the same things as the head football coach,” Coach Edwards said in the book What It Means To Be A Cougar.

In October 1984, Coach Edwards was one of several public figures who spoke in a session of general conference in the 1980s. In his conference address, he encouraged young men to serve missions, regardless of their athletic ambitions.

“If I could draw one general conclusion, it would be that if an athlete could play well before he went on a mission, he will definitely play well when he returns; and, if an athlete could not play well before his mission, he probably won’t play well when he returns,” Coach Edwards said during the priesthood session. “However, his chances of playing well are perhaps better if he goes because he will return with a greater understanding of himself, greater leadership capabilities, better work habits and a better knowledge of what it takes to be successful.”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, also a former BYU president, explained that the number of returned missionaries significantly increased during Brother Edwards’ time as head coach. “He believed right off the bat that returned missionaries could play football,” Elder Oaks said. “Before LaVell, we had no more than two or three returned missionaries on the team. After a couple of years under Coach Edwards, those numbers shot up significantly. That was a good thing for the university and the team.”

Soon after he retired from BYU, Coach Edwards and his wife, Patti, were called to serve as public affairs missionaries in New York in 2002. “Public affairs is kind of a broad spectrum of things. You work with different political and religious leaders. We worked with the people at the United Nations and just basically did bridge building and worked somewhat with the press, but not a great deal, just basically trying to create a good image for the Church,” he told the Logan Herald Journal.

Even thousands of miles away from BYU in New York, football found Coach Edwards and became a way that he could serve others. One of the people that he met with each month as a home teacher, Robert Sheppard, had been recruited to play for the first high school football team in Harlem in more than 62 years. Rob mentioned to his coach, Duke Fergerson, that his home teacher used to coach football. The Church News reported that their conversation went as follows:

“Who is your home teacher, Rob, and just how long has it been since he has coached a game?”

“His name is LaVell Edwards and I think it’s been a couple of years since he’s coached.”

“LaVell Edwards?” repeated Fergerson in disbelief. “Did you say your whatever-you-called-him is LaVell Edwards?”

“Yes, he and his wife, Patti, come to our home every month.”

“So LaVell Edwards, the BYU coach who other coaches come to for help, comes to your home every month?”

“Yes, he does,” repeated Rob.

“Well, get him over here, Rob. We need him!” said the coach.

Coach Edwards worked with the team until he returned home from his mission.

“You know, frankly, I’d never been to Harlem,” Coach Edwards told KSL News upon his return to Utah. “Meeting the people, that was probably one of the real highlights of our whole mission.”

During his general conference address in 1984, Coach Edwards said that “all that has happened to me in my chosen profession is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the truly important things in my life. The testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ that I have, along with my wife and my family, are my most important possessions.”

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