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Rivalry week: BYU's legendary coach still keeps tabs on teams

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 11:30 a.m. MDT

BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, left, shares a few insights with former BYU coach LaVell Edwards, right, and his son Jimmy. (Keith Johnson, Deseret News) BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, left, shares a few insights with former BYU coach LaVell Edwards, right, and his son Jimmy. (Keith Johnson, Deseret News)
For the record, LaVell Edwards — the man whose name is emblazoned on the Brigham Young University football stadium and who still refers to BYU as "us" and "we" — has included BYU's traditional rival, University of Utah, in the top 10 of a weekly football poll he participates in for The Sporting News.
"I've had Utah at 7 or 8 for quite a while," he says. "I had us (that's BYU) higher than Utah until we got beat. I moved Utah up, especially after they beat (Texas Christian University)." BYU suffered its only defeat to date this season at the hands of the same team.
In the latest Legends Poll, Utah is 8th, BYU 14th.
Edwards, who built a Hall of Fame career during 29 seasons as BYU's head coach, is 78 years old now and hasn't coached a game since 2000, but he still follows the fortunes of football closely. Three years ago he was invited to join a panel of 18 "legendary" former coaches to form the Legends Poll, which provides weekly rankings for The Sporting News.
Ten of the 18 coaches are members of the College Football Hall of Fame, and six of them won national championships. The coaches include John Robinson, Vince Dooley, Don James, Frank Kush and Frank Broyles.
Each coach is given a weekly CD that contains a dozen or so of that weekend's games. After watching the games individually, the coaches discuss the merits of the top teams in a conference call on Monday morning ("We have some good lively discussions,") says Edwards — and then they vote on their top 25.
The poll has obvious advantages over other polls. For one thing, the former coaches are more knowledgeable than media voters. They have more time to devote to it than active coaches because they don't have a team to prepare for a game. And, as Edwards notes, "We don't have an ax to grind."
The Legends Poll is not one of the polls that is considered in the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) formula, but Edwards says, "We're trying to get that." Edwards believes it is a good way to rank teams. "At least it's based on study and not what you read in the paper," he says. "The whole thing is pretty well thought out."
Like everyone else, Edwards has been anticipating the showdown between Utah and BYU on Saturday in Salt Lake City, with both teams nationally ranked and making strong bids for invitations from major bowls. It is arguably the greatest BYU-Utah matchup ever, considering the teams' records and rankings and what's at stake.
"It's going to be a hard-fought game," says Edwards. "It reminds me of when we won the national championship (in 1984), and we went up there and had to win. That was a battle. Now Utah is going to have to beat us to have a shot at the BCS — which they'll get if they win."
How does he size up the game? "Both are good teams," he says. "BYU's offense is a little better than Utah's, and Utah's defense is a little better than BYU's. I personally think it's going to be a good game, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's a low-scoring game."
Edwards attends many of BYU's home games, preferring to sit in a loge seat. "Which makes it nice," he says. "I don't have to be answering questions."
He likes what he sees on the field: "He (BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall) is doing a great job with it. He's got good players in the program and in the pipeline as well, with kids on missions and commits and so forth. They're there to stay as far as being one of the top teams in the league each year."
Exhibiting his trademark dry humor, Edwards doesn't miss a beat when he is asked what he has been doing in retirement: "I don't know, but whatever it is, it's been keeping me very busy." He travels, plays in charity golf events, and speaks to various church and service organizations.
Ask him about Joe Paterno still coaching Penn State at the age of 81 and Edwards says, "I'm glad it's him and not me."
Which answers your next question, doesn't it? Everywhere Edwards goes, people ask him if he misses coaching.
"Not really," he begins. "I really haven't. There were times at first I wondered if I would still want to do it. Then I would stop and think, if I were coaching I'd have to do this or that. I told the (BYU) president that I was going to resign the year before I actually retired. But then I thought I had better coach another year to make sure. I made the announcement before the season so if it got to the point where things weren't going right — well, I didn't want to go through that again — you know, people saying I'm too old and all that. As it happens it wasn't a good season (a 6-6 record) even though we finished well with the win over Utah."
He continued to enjoy the "football part" of coaching late in his career, but he grew tired of the off-the-field issues, specifically, academics and conduct.
"You're never out from under it, he says. "You always have problems, year-round. And we had relatively few problems, but there's always something going on. And then in my own mind, I thought, 'I'm 70. I want to go on a (church) mission and do some other things. I don't want to die out there (on the field.)' And I'd had enough. So, no, I don't miss it. I feel good about that. Not a lot of coaches get out when they want to and the way they want to."


E-mail: drob@desnews.com

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