Dick Harmon: For LaVell and Patti Edwards, it's all about service

Published: Thursday, May 14 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Here's one for you. How would you describe or define the "brand" that is LaVell and Patti Edwards?

These days, this buzzword brand is frequently used to exemplify a projection given by, say the BCS, or a corporation like Microsoft, or a team like BYU, Utah or Utah State. It is used to create mission statements, types of technology in gadgets like the iPod or even political persuasions. What is your brand? How do people perceive somebody else?

What is the LaVell and Patti brand?

What does one think of when they consider this couple, who are now fading out of the spotlight, yet stay active through retirement working for causes from the Boys & Girls Club of America to cancer charities.

It is far away from the days an emotional Patti would wait outside in the car at KSL studios while her husband taped his coaches show, explaining wins and losses of a pressure-packed, high-profile coaching job.

Former NFL all-pro tight end Chad Lewis and I had this discussion earlier this week on the putting green at Riverside Country Club before a charity event.

Lewis accepted the job of presenting LaVell and Patti Edwards at a formal banquet Thursday night, when they were honored by The Sutherland Institute, a nonprofit public policy foundation headquartered in Salt Lake City.

"They mastered the simple things," said Lewis. "Things like remembering names, attending weddings and funerals, making it personal, making it about you. Patti kept scrapbooks for every player and gave it to them at the end of the season. We'd run through a wall for them."

On Wednesday, I asked another longtime observer about the Edwards brand.

Former BYU and Alabama athletic director Glen Tuckett: "Patti was the consummate coach's wife. She was supportive, involved and organized wives and girlfriends. LaVell made it possible for coaches to be husbands and fathers. He didn't need to pile on meetings to give a sense of accomplishment.

"There are few coaches who do that today. Bob Stoops at Oklahoma is one of them. LaVell could orchestrate a program. He was Leonard Bernstein."

Duane Busby, director of football operations at BYU today and back in the day with Edwards, put it this way: "(They are) two people who genuinely cared more about the people around them than they did for themselves."

The LaVell and Patti brand I remember is pretty simple. They rub me as being easily understood, uncomplicated and most clearly the real deal.

Devoid of ego that seemingly rules the day in college football circles, LaVell and Patti are in a class by themselves. Even those who can't stand BYU have a tough time not respecting this couple because they transcend rivalries and the dust that gets on shoes as fans trample through the gates on the way to live-or-die games.

Toward the end of Edwards' coaching career, he had health issues that made it tough to stand for a two-hour practice so he sat some of the time in a golf cart. He wasn't so "locked away" that a reporter couldn't approach him, lean against the cart and ask a question or share a joke.

One of the more striking strands of the LaVell and Patti brand I sampled firsthand back in 1979 when I'd just joined the Daily Herald in Provo, working as a police reporter and helping with sports. Patti wrote a column for then-sports editor, Marion Dunn. I barely had a relationship with the head coach after covering football as a college newspaper sports editor two years prior.

On Oct. 9, the week of the Utah State-BYU game, my second son, Jeff, age 2, was hit by a truck while playing in front of my mother-in-law's house in Orem. He died instantly.

Needless to say, that was a devastating time for my wife and me. Hurt, confused, seriously tested and broken after that Tuesday tragedy, we somehow rambled through that week of tears and heartache. Thursday night at the viewing before Friday's funeral, there in a greeting line of comfort at Berg's Funeral Home stood LaVell and Patti Edwards.

Surely, in a game week, they had something more pressing to do with their time.

Or not.

Talking to Lewis on Monday, I told this "presenter" of LaVell and Patti Edwards of this memory and explained how impressed I was at this simple handshake of reassurance and comfort at a funeral home 30 years ago.

It is something I'll never forget, and it had nothing to do with football.

It is simply the best way I describe the LaVell and Patti brand.

E-MAIL: dharmon@desnews.com

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