Reynolds’ relationship with me was like I had with my father. He never really had to say much to pump me up, but I knew he was watching every move and all I wanted to do was make him proud —Curtis Brown
Lance Reynolds was kind of a Santa Claus figure for three decades of BYU football players.
Kind, gentlemanly, and full of good cheer, he bridged time for Cougar football. He was a link to the Doug Scovil days of LaVell Edwards when it all began. Reynolds’ institutional knowledge of BYU was unmatched. He was the longest enduring personal connection to history on the coaching staff.
After 31 years with the program, the assistant head football coach for the Cougars retired this past week, making the announcement at the Poinsettia Bowl. Former players remember him for his kindness, loyalty and virtue — a steady rock in a windy world.
Most of his BYU career, he coached running backs.
Reynolds coached seven of BYU’s 10 all-time leading rushers, including career-leader Harvey Unga, No. 2 Curtis Brown, No. 3 Jamal Willis and No. 4 Lakei Heimuli. Others in that Top 10, who were Reynold’s men, include Luke Staley, Ronnie Jenkins and Brian McKenzie.
Reynolds’ coaching style was the antithesis of the screamer. He was a sweet-tempered fixer, listener, sympathetic ear and counselor.
The school’s all-time leading rusher, Unga, says Reynolds always had his best interests in mind, even when he messed up. “I can’t tell you how many times he’s asked the guys, ‘Where’s Harv?’ Whether in practice, meetings or even games, he was always asking where I was to make sure I was where I needed to be," says Unga. "I will always be grateful for coach Reynolds and everything he taught me.”
Brown, whose BYU career record Unga broke, credits Reynolds for making him a complete player. Reynolds told him: “Everyone can run the football at this level. If you couldn’t, you wouldn’t be here. What will make you great is your ability to protect the quarterback and when not needed to stay in for protection, get the heck out of there and go catch passes.”
Said Brown, “Reynolds’ relationship with me was like I had with my father. He never really had to say much to pump me up, but I knew he was watching every move and all I wanted to do was make him proud.”
Reynolds recruited Fahu Tahi out of Granger High. “He took care of me throughout me entire time at BYU like his own son. I wouldn’t have survived or made it through without him,” said Tahi.
“It wasn’t because he was my coach, but because of how close we were as friends.” Tahi considered leaving BYU before his senior year when then coach Gary Crowton left. “I stayed because Reynolds stayed. He’s helped me become a better player and person and I’ll always look to him for help and a good laugh. He’s the best. There is no one like him.”
Quarterback John Beck remembered Reynolds picking him up in his Suburban for a recruiting visit when he was 18 during the LaVell Edwards' regime before Beck's mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When Beck returned from Portugal, he had been recruited by Edwards, played for Crowton and then Bronco Mendenhall.
“For me as a player, he was my only constant. He drove me around on my first visit," says Beck. "He helped me as a true freshman when BYU football was going through some rough years and he was giving me a hug when I made my biggest play of my career against Utah.”
Beck remembers his sophomore year he walked from the locker room up to the film room area during training camp. “We crossed paths at the bottom of the steps right when I was coming up. He said, ‘Beck, smile. You should always enjoy this.’ I told him I would when we started winning games.”
Reynolds replied, “I know. I want to win too, but have a good time doing this and we will win.”
Beck has always remembered that. “I think he’s been a guy throughout the years who has been very passionate about BYU winning football games and the players enjoying their time. He knew it would be a special time in their lives and he wanted us to enjoy all of it.
“Every player I ever played with loves coach Reynolds. The position group he coached always had such great attitudes and were always ready to play.”
Reynolds was part of 17 BYU conference champions and 28 bowl games during his time as a player and coach in Provo.
Said College Football Hall of Famer Ty Detmer, “I really appreciated coach Reynolds' demeanor and the way he taught the game.
“I enjoyed his laid-back style and yet he was very competitive. He always had a great relationship with his players. I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
As Reynolds packs up his office and leaves, so goes history, a body who stood with Scovil, Garth Hall, Dave Kragthorpe, Mel Olson, Roger French, Wally English, Norm Chow, Chris Pella, Mike Holmgren, Ted Tollner, LaVell ... the names go on.
But now, like the others, Reynolds is gone.
BYU Career Rushing Leaders
(Lance Reynolds' players in bold)
1. Harvey Unga, 2006-2009
2. Curtis Brown, 2002, 2004-2006
3. Jamal Willis, 191-1994
4. Lakei Heimuli, 1983-1986
5. Jeff Blanc, 1973-1976
6. Luke Staley, 1999, 2002
7. Pete Van Valkenburg, 1969-1972
8. John Ogden, 1964, 1966
9. Ronnie Jenkins, 1996-1998
10. Brian McKenzie, 1996-1997
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].