PROVO — In the annals of BYU football, Aug. 17, 2000, was the beginning of the end of an era.
It was ten years ago today that legendary coach LaVell Edwards announced his decision to retire at the conclusion of that season, capping an amazing 29-year head coaching career with the Cougars.
"It's hard to believe this is the 10th year that I haven't been coaching," Edwards, who turns 80 in October and is the sixth-winningest coach in NCAA history, told the Deseret News this week. "I look around and wonder where it's all gone. But (wife) Patti and I are always doing something. It's been a nice 10 years."
LaVell and Patti have not slowed down much during retirement. They served a church mission to New York City, and they are involved in a lot of charities, including the Boys and Girls Club. "I do a fair amount of speaking, mostly to church groups," Edwards said. "Our health has been good. So we've been fortunate that way. We travel a little bit. One way or another, we seem to keep busy. My time isn't all spent playing golf. But I do play."
The day he announced his impending retirement, Edwards told his players first, in the morning during a team meeting.
"It was a very touching, sentimental meeting," remembered Brandon Doman, who was one of BYU's quarterbacks at the time and now serves as the Cougars' quarterbacks coach. "We were stunned and saddened at the same time. It was emotional. More than anything, it was a feeling of gratitude for all that he had done, who he is, and what he represents. I was the fourth of four boys in my family to play for him. We had love and admiration for him. We felt a sense of urgency to have a great season for him."
In the afternoon, the school held a news conference, officially launching Edwards' farewell tour. Then-BYU President Merrill J. Bateman called the occasion "an historic day in the history of Brigham Young University. This is an historic day in the history of American football."
Tributes began pouring in from all over the country. But Edwards still had one last season to go — opening the 2000 season against No. 2 ranked and defending national champion Florida State.
Edwards had decided that his coaching career was over the previous January, weeks after his team lost badly to Marshall in the Motor City Bowl. A news conference to make the announcement was set for a day in February, 2000. But Edwards experienced a change of heart and decided to return for one final season.
"I knew it was going to be my last. I didn't like the way it ended the year before," recalled Edwards, who earned 257 victories, 19 conference titles and one national championship at BYU. "We lost our last three games, and we weren't accustomed to that. I decided to go one more time. That's why I announced it at the beginning of the season. I wanted to save the speculation (about the future). I didn't want to go through all of that."
Edwards had always believed he would finish his last season and then announce his retirement, not the other way around.
"Honestly, I had never, ever in my wildest dreams believed I would ever do this," Edwards said during that news conference a decade ago. "All I wanted to do was to play it out and when it was time to go hang it up, take off and sail into the sunset somewhere."
However, leading up to the 2000 season, as he began to fielding questions from recruits and current players, asking him if he would still be coaching beyond 2000. He told them the truth. He told them no. Besides, he had already grown weary of the speculation on his future and wanted to eliminate distractions. So he decided to let the world know his intentions. He wanted to focus on football.
That season, the Cougars endured a quarterback controversy during fall camp. Then Florida State, and Edwards' good friend, coach Bobby Bowden (who retired after the 2009 season), pounded the Cougars, 29-3, in the Pigskin Classic in Jacksonville, Fla.
On one play, Seminole quarterback Chris Weinke rolled out of bounds and inadvertently ran into Edwards' leg. "I took a few stitches on that one," Edwards said. "He was a big guy. Florida State had a very good football team. The fact it was against Bobby, it was a lot of fun."
The Cougars, who played an arduous schedule, including three trips to the East Coast, didn't have many fun moments that season, though. They were blown out by Mississippi State (44-28), Syracuse (42-14) and Colorado State (45-21).
Enduring plenty of adversity, BYU entered the final two games of the season with a miserable 4-6 record. Nobody associated with the program wanted Edwards to finish his last season with a losing record. Since taking the helm of the program in 1972, Edwards had never experienced a losing season.
Doman, who had languished on the bench as the third-string quarterback most of the season, was named the starter going into the home finale against New Mexico. Before the contest, then-LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the team, urging them to send their coach out in the right way. "Don't muff it," he said.
On the field prior to kickoff, President Hinckley announced that Cougar Stadium would from that point on be known as LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The inspired Cougars, led by Doman, drilled the Lobos, 37-13 (by the way, current BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall was UNM's defensive coordinator at that time). The following week, the Cougars traveled to Utah for the season-finale and, for Edwards, his career-finale.
BYU led 26-10 going into the fourth quarter, but the Utes rallied to take a 27-26 advantage in the waning moments. On fourth-and-13 with 1:04 remaining, Doman completed a miraculous 34-yard pass play to Jonathan Pittman to keep the drive alive. Later, Doman capped the series with a 4-yard touchdown run. The Cougars won, 34-27. It was a storybook ending to a storybook career.
Although BYU finished with a mediocre 6-6 record and no bowl game appearance, that game stands as one of Edwards' most cherished memories.
"The Utah game, the way we ended it ... we've had so many unbelievable endings through the years," he said. "That ranked up there as one of the best. One of the most improbable. It was a good way to end it, really."
"Those last two games, for coach Edwards, were remarkable experiences," Doman said. "I'm just happy I had the chance to be a part of it. I'm honored. I think about all of the great moments in the history of the program. I don't know if it couldn't gotten any bigger than to play in his final home game when the stadium was named after him and then the last game of the season at Utah. What an honor to be his quarterback at that time. To finish up that way was a great blessing."
Gary Crowton was hired as BYU's head coach weeks later and, with Doman at QB, the Cougars posted a 12-2 record in 2001. After three consecutive losing seasons, Crowton resigned in 2004 and was replaced by Mendenhall. Soon after, Doman joined the staff.
Since the day he was hired, Mendenhall has regarded Edwards as a mentor and has sought Edwards for advice and help. Edwards has addressed Mendenhall's teams on several occasions — including the night before fall camp opened a couple of weeks ago at Edwards Stadium.
"I give kudos to coach Mendenhall for reaching out to coach Edwards and realizing the great asset that he is," Doman said. "To have him living just a few blocks away from here and to not use him as a resource would be crazy. Any time our coaches or players have the chance to hear from him or lean on him for advice, it's sound wisdom. For us to learn from him and all of his experiences is a great tool."
Edwards has an even more personal connection to the 2010 team. His grandson, Matthew, is a junior tight end for the Cougars. "It's great. I hope he gets a chance to play a little bit. He's a great kid," Edwards said. "He's thinking about going into coaching. We'll have to wait and see what happens."