He is a legend, there is no doubt about it. What really set Coach apart, he was successful, but what really was the difference was he was significant in people’s lives. —Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, on LaVell Edwards
SALT LAKE CITY — The crowd at Vivint Arena stood three times to thank two coaches whose influence extends beyond the players they taught, the games they won or the accolades they earned.
During the Governor’s Annual State of Sport Awards Thursday night, a tribute to the best in Utah athletics, two of Utah’s coaching legends were honored — Jerry Sloan and LaVell Edwards.
Sloan, who coached the Jazz for 23 seasons, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, while Edwards, who led BYU’s football team for 28 years, was recognized posthumously with the Legends Award.
Video tributes to both men highlighted long lists of accomplishments, but remembrances from former players recognized the men as more than great strategists, teachers or competitors. The hallmark of their respective careers was how they cared for their players.
“He is a legend, there is no doubt about it,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said of Edwards. “What really set Coach apart, he was successful, but what really was the difference was he was significant in people’s lives.”
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake called Edwards “a great mentor” and then he played a voicemail his former coach left for him the day the Cougars were scheduled to play Toledo with a 1-3 record.
“I just wanted you to know you’re doing a great job,” Edwards said in his voicemail to Sitake. “I feel really encouraged about the team. I wanted to wish you good luck tonight. Just keep it going, man.”
Sitake said that message came to him “when I needed it most. And that was LaVell. He was there for you when you needed him the most. He had faith and he believed in people more than they believed in themselves.”
Greg Miller and Thurl Bailey offered memories about coach Sloan’s influence, while a touching video offered thoughts from former Jazz head coach Frank Layden and former players, including John Stockton and Karl Malone.
“None of us could have done anything without you,” Stockton said. “I’ve never seen a guy so dedicated to the game and the people he works with in my entire life. You are a rare individual. They broke the mold when they made you.”
Bailey added that many of Sloan’s coaching techniques and team rules had dual meanings.
“When he talked about tucking in your jersey, what it meant in a deeper sense is have respect,” Bailey said. “Have respect for the game; have respect for yourself.”
Both presentations, as well as a presentation honoring the late Lewis Field, painted portraits of men whose loyalty, dedication, hard work and compassion ensured their influence will extend far beyond the field, court or arena where they exhibited excellence throughout their lives.
The high school awards went to a pair of cross-country standouts — both of whom have signed to run for BYU next season. Provo High’s Kate Hunter was honored as the High School Female Athlete of the Year, while American Fork’s Casey Clinger won the High School Male Athlete of the Year.
BYU soccer standout Ashley Hatch won Collegiate Female Athlete of the Year, while Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy (who is now with the Utah Jazz) won Collegiate Male Athlete of the Year.
Motocross racer Kolleen Conger won Adaptive Female of the Year, while Syracuse senior Hunter Woodhall, who won two medals at the 2016 Paralympics, was honored as Adaptive Male Athlete of the Year.
Ten-time national champion in bouldering Alex Puccio was named Female Pro/Olympian of the Year, while Jazz center Rudy Gobert earned Male Pro/Olympian of the Year.
The Coach of the Year was BYU soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood after leading the Cougars to their fifth straight West Coast Conference this season.
Team of the Year was East High football after the Leopards won the 4A state title with a 14-0 record. The team currently owns a 23-game win streak that extends into the 2015 season.2 comments on this story
The highlight/event of the year went to Utah freshman soccer player Haylee Cacciacarne for her first collegiate goal. In the 2016 NCAA Tournament, she scored on a long-range headshot that sent the Utes to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
The Utah Sports Commission reported a record 140,000 votes from all 50 states and 106 countries.
“The lessons learned from sports stay with us and benefit us throughout our lives,” said Gov. Gary Herbert. “It is great to honor the top athletes, teams and coaches in our state, and I salute each nominee for their contributions to sports in Utah.”