PROVO — When Kalani Sitake asked Ed Lamb to join his coaching staff at Brigham Young University last December, Lamb was thrilled. Life had come full circle.
"I’m excited to get back to BYU, a place that has been very instrumental in my life," Lamb stated in a BYU news release. "My time on campus as a Cougar changed my life and continues to shape who I am today."
Encrypted in those words is a personal account of how BYU football truly transformed Lamb's life. It primarily involves an unforgettable meeting he once had as a senior football player with former Cougar head coach LaVell Edwards in which he experienced a great awakening.
Looking back two decades later, Lamb, a 42-year-old assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and safeties coach for BYU, recently told the rest of the story in a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving.
"(The meeting) changed the course of my life," Lamb reiterated.
In January 1996, Lamb was preparing for his senior year. It was standard for each player to sit down with Edwards and discuss personal progress and offseason goals.
The Cougars failed to reach a bowl game after the 1995 season, but the junior linebacker from Pleasanton, California, had started a few games and finished the year on a promising note with a sack against Fresno State. Lamb, who had previously played at Ricks College, imagined the meeting with Edwards would include a discussion about him becoming a team leader or a candidate for individual postseason accolades.
Instead, with a file of paperwork spread across his desk, Edwards used words like "mediocre" and "unacceptable" to document Lamb's uninspired performance. It was a short meeting, and Lamb was immediately embarrassed, he said.
"He ripped through them matter-of-factly. My strength gains in the weight room were mediocre, my grades were mediocre and my performances on the field were mediocre. He felt like I could do more," Lamb said. "In the eyes of one of the best college football coaches in history, I was underachieving. It hit me like a freight train and that was all he needed to say. He was fairly dismissive of me and didn't try to make me feel good."
Edwards didn't have to say anything about abiding by the school's honor code. Lamb, who isn't a member of the LDS Church, knew he needed to take it more seriously as well, he said.
"I was burning the candle at both ends, trying to have as much fun as I possibly could while getting a degree and being a football player. I didn't feel like I was breaking any commitments," Lamb said. "I thought I was doing a great job of balancing those things, and to the point where nobody really knew that I was taking my social life so seriously."
Lamb thought of his father, a general contractor with a 5 a.m. wake-up call who wanted his son to attend college and have a better life. At that point, his father thought he was doing just that and would be disappointed if he knew his son wasn't taking full advantage of his opportunity, Lamb said.
Lamb considered Edwards to be a father figure. As he listened to the longtime coach articulate his lackluster performance, using phrases like, "You're not the player I recruited," Lamb knew he needed a major overhaul of his goals and priorities, he said.
"He made me look at everything, and it changed my perspective," Lamb said. "I wanted to be better in every area of my life. I had a new sense of purpose."
Lamb's faith in the Lord, as well as his respect for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, increased as a result of the meeting with Edwards, he said.
"Coach Edwards never said one thing about the gospel or religion, but I knew his commitments and standards. In one meeting, my respect for the LDS Church, BYU and the gospel standards rose 100 fold," Lamb said. "The fact that he saw me in a different light than I saw myself was eye-opening."
Lamb later married an LDS woman and has raised his family in the LDS Church, although he has never joined, he said in a 2014 Deseret News article.
Lessons and results
Lamb reset his goals for the weight room, the classroom and football and did his best to correct things right away. The English major even focused on improving his dress and grooming standards. Not only did he want to impress his coach, he also wanted to impress everyone, he said.
On the field, Lamb's senior year became one of the most memorable in school history. The defensive end helped BYU to a record of 14-1, a victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl and a No. 5 national ranking.
In 1998, he earned a master's in education counseling from the University of Redlands in California while serving as an assistant for the school's football team.
Lamb's coaching career has included stints at the University of Idaho, University of San Diego and Southern Utah University, where he transformed a program with a 19-game losing streak back into conference champions (2010 in the Great West, 2015 in the Big Sky) and received several coaching honors.
In 2010, Edwards called Lamb after SUU won its conference title. The old coach said the Thunderbirds' season reminded him a lot of his first conference championship at BYU. The call meant a lot to Lamb, and he took the opportunity to credit Edwards for turning his life around with their 1996 one-on-one meeting.
"I thanked him, which I had never done. I told him it made such a difference for me," Lamb said. "Did he remember the meeting? Coach Edwards has a way of making you think he remembers everything without actually saying it. I'm not so sure."
Edwards recalls having regular interviews with each player after the season but doesn't specifically remember his session with Lamb, he said.
"All I know is I liked him and figured he had a lot more ability than what he was probably showing," Edwards said with a laugh. "If that is what he remembers, then, of course, it worked out fine."
Edwards does remember making the congratulatory call to Lamb in 2010. The legendary BYU coach also applauds Sitake's decision to bring Lamb back to BYU.
"I think he's been tremendous," Edwards said of Lamb. "He's an outstanding coach."
Lamb is grateful to Edwards for helping him discover a formula for success that has served him well over the years, he said.
"I've made a permanent connection between commitment, hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Sometimes patience is necessary to see the connection, but the end result is real," Lamb said. "(With that connection) I feel like I'm still on a hot streak that isn't going to end."
Lamb's college social life experience has also been a blessing. He has been able to identify signs and recognize situations with his players. He wants to help them on the field and in life, like he did with former Southern Utah receiver Justin Brown, as reported by the Deseret News last year.
"As a coach, I know what it looks like. I know what it smells and sounds like. There aren't many guys I can't connect with in a way they can trust," Lamb said. "Some are mature and have made excellent decisions. Others still need experiences. If one of those experiences can be me reaching out, I can essentially pass along the same nonjudgemental message Coach Edwards passed on to me."
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