LaVell Edwards — a former bishop, returned missionary, beloved husband and father and, yes, legendary Brigham Young University football coach — was memorialized Saturday by hundreds of his relatives, former players and fellow coaches.
The funeral was held, appropriately, at BYU’s YSA multi-stake center — just blocks away from the football stadium that bears Coach Edwards’ name.
President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, presided at the gathering. He was joined by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The national championship-winning coach was “an example of how you can be tough and strong and able to do good and noble things and have the gospel of Jesus Christ right there with you,” said President Eyring.
Coach Edwards, he added, ensured that the Church-owned BYU was a place “where excellence would be expected and where always, at the center, would be the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
While LaVell Edwards’ mortal life is over, his good works will continue as he serves the Lord in the next life, said President Eyring.
“I have known and admired LaVell Edwards for 45 years,” said Elder Oaks in his remarks.
During Elder Oaks’ own tenure at BYU, he appointed LaVell Edwards to be the university’s football coach. He regards that hiring to be one of his most significant decisions during his service at the school.
At the time, then school-president Oaks charged the Cougars’ new coach to change the belief that returned missionaries could not enjoy post-mission success on the gridiron. “What a sensational response he made.”
Thanks to Coach Edwards’ championing of missionary service for his football players, such perceptions have been forever changed. Fifty-two of the players on the BYU’s 1984 national championship team were returned missionaries. Today, scores of returned missionaries can be found on the rosters of some 16 college football teams.
Elder Oaks also testified of the resurrecting power of Christ’s Atonement.
Many mourn LaVell Edwards’ death, “but [his] remarkable life and contribution to the work of the Lord has been monumental.”
Brother Edwards’ bishop, Brian Santiago, said the storied coach lived an “exemplary life” that brings to mind the hymn “Each Life That Touches Ours for Good.”
Bishop Santiago said LaVell often sought opportunities to help people in the ward who were in need. He looked out for others and knew just the right thing to say to someone — at just the right time.
LaVell Edwards, he added, “is alive and will be waiting for us with open arms.”
Daughter Ann Cannon spoke of her parents’ courtship that began at Utah State University where LaVell was a star football player and Patti Covey was a rodeo queen.
“Patti and LaVell forged an amazing partnership that lasted 65 years,” she said.
Their marriage was grounded in love, a shared faith of the gospel, devotion for one another and an ample supply of fun and laughter. Patti had little interest in football when they met — but, years later, she became a hardcore Cougar fan who wouldn’t hesitate to quiz her husband-coach on his game-time decisions.
Son John Edwards remembered his father’s “life lessons” that would influence and guide his children, grandchildren and players. He lived an abundant life anchored in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“He loved to learn. ... And he loved to laugh.”
Coach Edwards could appear a bit gruff on the sidelines, but he showed love to all he met. “He was the Will Rogers of coaching,” said John. “He never met a player or coach he didn’t like.”
Grandson Geoffrey Cannon said his grandfather’s humor and zest for life and learning were adored by all 14 of his grandchildren. “He was the funniest person I’ve ever known.”
Yes, football was important for Coach Edwards — but football was far less important than his relationship with his family, friends and players. “Grandpa taught us about life and walked the walk,” said Geoffrey. “We all knew where his priorities were.”
Son Jimmy Edwards said his father was defined by his family, his faith, his friends and, of course, football. Coach a college football program with honesty and integrity, he would say, “and you never have to apologize for winning.”
LaVell Edwards often demonstrated his faith and love for his family by sharing priesthood blessings. Jimmy Edwards spoke of the many times he found guidance and comfort through his father’s blessings. Even in the weeks just prior to his death, Brother Edwards was anxious to exercise the priesthood and bless his loved ones.
Several Edwards grandsons served as pallbearers at the funeral. Honorary pallbearers included fellow football coaches Ron McBride, Andy Reid and Ted Tollner and “all of the players who became his sons.”
The day before the funeral, hundreds of BYU football fans and former players gathered to honor the man who would become the Church-owned school’s de-facto goodwill ambassador.
“Only the university’s namesake, good old Brother Brigham himself, may be the only better-known link in the nation to this university than is the name of LaVell Edwards,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Jan. 6 public memorial service at the Utah Valley Convention Center.
The evening included a six-minute video of iconic photos of Coach Edwards.
“What you saw is what you got,” said Elder Holland. “It was a quality that reassured me all those years that LaVell would never embarrass the university, nor the Church, which sponsors it. He would never be found cutting corners or compromising principles or living beneath the standards that the Church and the university espoused.”
Former BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco, a convert to the Church who played on the national championship team, called his former coach a “true disciple” of Christ.
“It’s not about the wins, not the touchdown passes, not about the tackles players made,” said Brother Bosco. “It’s how he treated us as human beings and the impact he had on all our lives to make us better men, better people.”
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