Dick Harmon: BYU, Utah football coaches come through once again at Kidney Foundation fundraiser

Published: Monday, June 10 2013 6:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Nobody can say where the BYU-Utah football rivalry is headed.

But there is one person who is a true believer, a person who's put her heart and soul into riding this rivalry for a great cause. On Monday, that person nearly got killed just a few blocks from The Country Club, where Kyle Whittingham, Bronco Mendenhall, LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride met to raise money for the local chapter of the Kidney Foundation.

All Deen Vetterli, the CEO of the Utah-Idaho chapter of the National Kidney Foundation, has tried to do for a quarter of a century is save lives. Twenty-five years ago she had the idea to use the BYU-Utah rivalry to raise money for the cause. She started with LaVell Edwards and Jim Fassel and a golf tournament: red vs. blue.

It worked.

Vetterli was only a few blocks from this year’s event early Monday morning when she found herself in a car crash, air bags inflating, her body banged around like a rag doll. She never made it to the golf course, but is recovering, thankfully, and is expected to be back in action in a week or two.

In her stead, those four coaches continued the tradition in the 25th-annual Kidney Foundation golf tournament, which raises about $60,000 a year before expenses. That’s about $1.5 million since its beginning.

In a sit-down interview with Vetterli last week, she extolled the virtues of Utah and BYU coaches, who put their names on the line for the cause. Oh, there’s been the silly singing of the fight song that both head coaches goof around with, but they keep coming back, even if it conflicts with camps and summer vacations.

“No other chapter in the country can pull this off,” said Vetterli. “They marvel and wonder how we can get in-state rival coaches in the same room for an event like this. But we’ve done it and it has been a huge success, the top fundraiser among all the chapters in the country.”

Vetterli remembers when McBride left Utah. She fretted how she would ever replace him because the magic, the comedy and the chemistry between McBride and Edwards was entertainment gold.

“I called Urban Meyer when he was hired. He was on his way to Utah and I wasn’t sure if he would agree to put it on his calendar. In a second conversation, I explained what we were doing, how long we’d been doing it and why it was so important. He hung up, saying he had to check with his wife and family. He called back immediately and said he was onboard. When he left Utah, I saw in one publication that he listed us as his favorite charity.”

Vetterli, more than most, can deeply appreciate the charity of time given by all the rivalry coaches. Even with Whittingham and Mendenhall, who do not put golfing as a top priority and are nothing like the McBride/Edwards show, she has seen them sacrifice a chunk of their summer to help out.

“This is very important. From the billboards you see on the freeway to this golf event, we make contacts; we get phone calls; and we save lives.

“Kidney disease kills more than breast or prostate cancer, according to a new study,” said Vetterli. “These coaches have done a tremendous service to the community. And I just hate it when people talk about this rivalry being over or that it’s not the same.”

In other words, everybody should chill. And then get it going again. “As long as there are BYU and Utah fans, there will be grounds for a very emotional rivalry,” she said.

Well, times do change.

And even with this golf event, Vetterli has had to tweak things.

Monday’s event conflicted with Whittingham’s summer camp. He made the golf but not the luncheon.

Whittingham refuses to cut any corners and brings pro golfers. This year he brought South Mountain’s Dustin Pimm and Gladstan’s Tracy Zobell. Zobell drove his tee shot over the ravine on No. 9, a feat not too many longtime observers at the club had seen in any competition.

Mendenhall doesn’t want to sing anything at all — his fight song or Utah’s — and he’d rather bring players and coaches for a social event. This year he brought quarterback Taysom Hill, assistant Mark Atuaia and a donor. Mendenhall loves the charity and the experience more than finding ways to go 20 under par in a scramble.

Vetterli called back Edwards and McBride to do the entertaining at the luncheon, and based on McBride’s team beating Edwards’ team by one stroke, Ute cheerleaders tried to lead the audience in the school fight song. The effort was good, but the execution needed a little help.

And you know what, it’s all OK.

The celebration should be about what all these stars bring to the cause: money and attention.

In that regard, Vetterli can rest her bruised body this week, knowing her football men came through. Checks are in the bank; value of life is again respected. The rivalry bled green.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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