PROVO, Utah — For 16 seasons, Barry Lamb served as a defensive coach on BYU's football staff. To him, it was the best job in the world.
"What stands out to me was the joy and pleasure that I got out of my time at BYU. It was the best. I got to coach with Bronco Mendenhall and LaVell Edwards. What's better than that?" Lamb said. "I loved going out to practice and looking up at the mountains, especially in the fall when the leaves were changing colors. I was at BYU. It couldn't get much better for a coach, in my opinion."
That's why retiring is hard to do.
Mendenhall announced Thursday that Lamb, 54, is stepping down from his post as outside linebackers coach and that graduate assistant Nick Howell will replace him.
While Lamb had opportunities over the years to take more glamorous and lucrative jobs in the National Football League, he decided not to accept those offers.
"I didn't want to. BYU's just too good a place. And it's not about the money, it's not about having your name in the paper. It's about the kids," Lamb said. "It was a dream job for me. I'm a convert (to the LDS Church), so it was great for me in a lot of ways. It was a great run. It's not the wins or losses, it's the players and coaches I worked with that made my time at BYU special."
Lamb, who was hired by the legendary Edwards in 1994, realized last fall that health issues were taking a toll on him. He took a leave of absence during spring practice to deal with lingering health concerns.
In 2004, Lamb slipped and fell on a mountain trail near the Machu Picchu ruins in Peru, breaking his leg in three places and dislocating his ankle. About 11/2 years ago, Lamb was injured in a motorcycle accident.
"I probably wasn't physically prepared for last season," Lamb said. "I was pretty run-down physically and emotionally by the end of last season. It was difficult for me to do the job that I think for years and years I did really well. I was in a state of decline. I love the kids and the coaching, but I didn't have the same spark that I once had.
"The kids at BYU deserve the very, very best from anybody on the staff. I wasn't able to conjure up that spark I once had. It was a difficult time, but Bronco helped me through it. He was the only one I confided in. I have more respect for the man than I do the coach. And he's a great coach. That's how I feel about him. He was very, very helpful. I was struggling through practice physically."
At one point, Lamb approached other longtime coaches on the staff for their opinions.
"I said, 'Be honest with me. Am I the same guy I was 16 years ago when I got here?' They told me, 'No,' " Lamb said. "That was difficult but the truth is the truth. They helped me express it in words. It was the right thing at the right time. You don't want to give the players anything less than your absolute best. If your absolute best isn't what it used to be, there's some hard decisions to made.
"I really appreciate not only my time at BYU but the manner in which I was able to leave. It really was unexpected for me. I expected to coach into my 60s. I don't see myself getting back into coaching, ever."
The timing of the decision has worked out, Lamb said. Retiring has allowed him to be with, and help take care of, his ailing father in Santa Barbara, Calif.
"You kind of look at the big picture after a while and see that it was a blessing. It was sure in disguise, though," he said. "I didn't see it for a long time. It's better for my father, it's better for me. I'm at peace with this decision."
Among his most memorable moments at BYU include a 21-14 victory at Notre Dame during his first season in '94.
"That was a defining moment for our team, I thought. It was special to be on the field and see 'Touchdown Jesus' up there," Lamb recalled. "It was one of those moments where, we won the game and LaVell, (former assistant) Dewayne (Walker) and I did one of those group hugs and danced around a little bit. That was a special moment for me."
Other memorable moments?
"The Utah games, which you always remember, good or bad," he said.
In all, Lamb coached for 33 years. Prior to arriving at BYU, he was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at San Diego State. He also had stints at Idaho, UNLV, Arizona State and Oregon.
Lamb was an All-America linebacker and defensive end at Santa Barbara CC (1973-74), then transferred to the University of Utah, where he suffered a career-ending back injury in 1975. His wife, Karen, is a member of the BYU Athletic Hall of Fame and is a former Cougar women's volleyball coach. They have three sons: Mackenzie, Tanner (who's on a mission to Wisconsin) and Tucker, a member of the BYU football team.
Prior to coaching the outside linebackers at BYU, Lamb oversaw the safeties.
"Barry is a loyal friend who has given his heart and soul to BYU and to coaching football," Mendenhall said in a statement. "He absolutely loves the young men he coached and taught during his career. Barry has played a significant role in BYU's success, and I'm extremely grateful to him for that. I appreciate not only his many contributions to our program but also his true friendship. I wish him the very best."Comment on this story
Howell enters his fourth season on BYU's staff after three years as a graduate assistant. He worked with the outside linebackers during spring ball and will continue in that capacity this fall.
"Nick is one of the brightest young football coaches in the country," Mendenhall said. "He is extremely diligent, energetic and hard working. He is passionate about BYU. I am thrilled to have him continue to be part of our staff, and I am confident he will be successful in building on what coach Lamb has done here at BYU."
Said Lamb: "I think Nick Howell is on the verge of greatness. He's a great communicator and teacher and the kids love him. I think he'll be a rising star almost immediately. I'm proud of him."