At one time LaVell Edwards honestly thought he'd be finished with coaching by the time he reached his 60th birthday, but here he is 58 and not ready to retire any time soon. Not even after one of the most turbulent years of his career.

Still, retirement crosses his mind more these days, lingering as a growing possibility."When you get to be a certain age, you think about what you're going to do (next)," he says. "The worst possible thing that could happen would be to retire completely. I'd go nuts. I'd have to do something."

Besides refining his golf game, he means.

Edwards and his wife, Patti, plan to serve a mission for their church immediately after retirement from coaching, unless he could land a "significant assignment" at the university. (Is anybody listening?)

"I'm thinking three or four more years (of coaching), but I don't know," he said this week, as he watched his team practice for the Freedom Bowl. "I don't want to lock myself into anything. It all depends. I want to continue to win and make progress."

And heaven knows it isn't all touchdowns and quarterbacks these days, as it once was. The Cougars have gone three years without a conference championship or an all-star passer. Opponents, Edwards sighs, have caught up with the passing game BYU pioneered. In the meantime, there are other pressures. Rival coaches and players slander his team, fans second-guess every move, there are the old irritating questions about overage returned missionaries and reserve quarterbacks and . . . does he need this?

"Every once in a while I think like that, but usually I don't let it bother me," he says.

Looking ahead

So Edwards looks hopefully ahead to yet another season, his 18th. The prospects for next year look considerably brighter than they did a week ago. After losing three of their previous four games, the Cougars rallied to beat Colorado 20-17 in Thursday's Freedom Bowl and finished the season with a fine 9-4 record.

It will be business as usual during the off-season for Edwards. No, he doesn't plan any changes, in his coaching staff's duties or otherwise. Some fans singled out Norm Chow. They criticized his play calling, particularly early in the year, but they forget that this is the same man who called plays during the record-setting season of '83 and the national title season of '84. Chow also coaches the wide receivers and quarterbacks, just as he always has, but there is a difference. He no longer has the help of a personal quarterback coach/guru - a la Holmgren, Scovil, Tollner - down on the sideline while he's up in the press box calling plays. Even the linebackers have two coaches.

"I think if there is something we've missed it's the one-on-one communication on the sideline there," says Edwards.

As for next year's team, there will be some new faces. Quarterback Ty Detmer, a redshirt freshman, demonstrated saavy and poise beyond his years and played a big role in wins over UTEP, Hawaii, New Mexico and Colorado - despite making just one start. He figures to be the starter when the Cougars begin next season.

The prospects elsewhere look like this: the top three running backs all return. Matt Bellini, always a fine receiver, grew noticeably more comfortable in his role as a running back. He's got the best feet since Michael Jackson. Mike Salido is one of the best pure runners to play for BYU in recent years and, even with solid Fred Whittingham in front of him, the Cougars had to find a place for him. They alternated Whittingham and Salido to run plays to the huddle from the sideline, instead of the wideouts. Now, what to do with up-and-coming Stacy Corley?

Wide receivers?

The prospects at the wide receiver spots are uncertain, with the graduation of Chuck Cutler and probable missionary duty for some of the promising younger players. Tight end Darren Handley also graduates, but sophomore Chris Smith is promising. Toward the end of the year he was used as a fourth wide receiver.

The offense's biggest problem is the all-senior offensive line is due for a major overhaul. From tight end to tackle, the Cougars lose their entire line.

There is even more rebuilding to do on defense. Noseguard Tim Knight and tackle Tim Clark are gone. Eddie Green (a redshirt) will join Pete Harston and Bud Orr, who both got a lot of work this year because of injuries to the starters. Also Craig Patterson returns. He was a starter in the season opener, but was sidelined the remainder of the year by an injury.

The thought of the secondary breaking up must make Edwards weep at night. Safeties Troy Long and Scott Peterson, plus cornerback Rodney Rice are gone. On theother hand, Brian Mitchell had five interceptions this year, mostly in a reserverole. Eric Bergeson played soft coverage on the other corner, but a full season of experience is behind him now. Troy Fuller was a starter at safety two years ago before sustaining a neck an injury.

The good news for Edwards is the linebackers. Bob Davis will be a Butkus Award candidate, again. Chad Robinson, Duane Johnson and Marc Neal are already very strong outside. Regan Hansen is gone, but Rocky Biegel, the much-heralded freshman, should be ready to step in.

The kicking game was an adventure this year, but, then, Jason Chaffetz did kick two high-pressure field goals to win the Freedom Bowl.

As always, next year brings renewed hopes - and the same steady coach.