Here is a collection of tributes to LaVell Edwards, a Hall of Fame college coach who passed away Thursday. His players speak more about his personal relationships than his on field decisions and plays. His iconic father-figure personality has left them all with lasting impressions of their college days and beyond.
Steve Young, sportscaster, Hall of Fame QB:
“The No. 1 quality that Coach had was a gift — I’m going to say it was from heaven — that he had the ability to look at you and get a sense of you and be able to have a vision for your future. To see things that you didn’t see, to see potential in you that you didn’t know about. It was personal to you. He had the ability to see around the corner, and it was individual. Football is the ultimate people sport, and you have to have people skills. It was a gift.”
Ty Detmer, 1990 Heisman Trophy winner
"LaVell Edwards was a calming influence, that father figure away from home. Never go to high or go too low in any situation. He created a loving home atmosphere in our program. I will always be grateful for the opportunity he provided me at BYU. Great coach but even a better man."
Elder Jeffrey Holland, member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as BYU football fans everywhere, lost a true champion with the death of legendary coach LaVell Edwards on Thursday. The first and most obvious sense of 'champion' that leaps to mind is his unparalleled winning record at the helm of Cougar football. But he was a 'champion' and personal friend to me in far more important ways than that. No coach, nor leader of young men generally, could have represented his University nor his Church more professionally than did LaVell, a special LDS professionalism that put his religious faith at the center of his life, then added a conscientious work ethic, a kind and fun-loving personality, and unfailing loyalty to his wife, Patti, their three children Ann (Cannon), John and Jim. The simple fact of the matter is LaVell lived his religion with admirable devotion whether on the field, off the field, in the locker room, on a recruiting tour, in his home or in an LDS worship service. As University President, I knew that LaVell Edwards would conduct himself with honor and integrity in any setting. Both the University and its sponsoring Church are very proud of him. We were blessed to have such an exemplary man coach in such a 'championship' way for nearly 30 years, and I have lost a dear and close personal friend. Our condolences go out to Patti and the family.”
Vai Sikahema, sportscaster, NFL All Pro
“No one had more impact on Polynesian football than LaVell. No one. He impacted all of us who played for him and those who didn’t. Kenny Niumatalolo told me LaVell saved his coaching career when he was fired at Navy in 1998. LaVell called his friend John Robinson at UNLV, and sight unseen and based solely on LaVell’s recommendation, Robinson hired Kenny. Two to three years later, Kenny returned to Annapolis as offensive coordinator under a different head coach and the rest is history.
“LaVell understood our culture and our people better than anyone. He sat on the floor and ate lupulu, taro, palusami, poke, poi and whatever Tongan, Samoan and Hawaiian mothers cooked. He didn’t try and change our way of life but sincerely wanted to “add” to our naturally gregarious dispositions by providing us with an education and leadership training. For him, it wasn’t about football it was about education and leadership. But along the way he created some great football players.”
Kyle Whittingham, former BYU player and current University of Utah head coach
“It was heartbreaking to hear the news of Coach Edwards’ passing. He was a close friend of our family and we will all miss him. I have many fond memories of Coach Edwards and was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play under his tutelage as well as coach under him as a graduate assistant. He made such a positive impact on so many lives and to me that is what his legacy is all about and what’s most important.”
Blaine Fowler, sportscaster, former quarterback:
“Coach Edwards was a man without ego. He achieved greatness and did it with humility and grace. He was so much more than a coach. He was a father figure to everyone that came through the program. He fostered a family atmosphere at BYU with love and support for one another as the cornerstones, and influence, concern, and love didn’t end when you left the program. The world is a much better place because of Coach Edwards. His legacy and influence will live on in the lives of all that have interacted with him throughout his remarkable life. My heart is heavy with the news of his passing but I rejoice as I reflect on the positive influence he has had on my life and thousands of others.”
Jeff Blanc, police detective, former running back:
“Oh, wow I’m in shock. Let me tell you about this guy and how he stayed close to us. He didn’t care what year you played. He is probably one of the most Christ-like men I have ever met in my life. He knew everyone who played for him. He knew everyone’s first and last names and almost every name of their wives. That’s how sharp this guy was. He knew everything about you and what you were up to. He’d say, “I heard you were doing this, or doing that.’ I ran for sheriff up in Boise a few years ago and he did a tape recording for the radio for me. I’ll tell you, when I first got married in the Manti Temple in 1977, he came to that. I don’t know many people who could have a head coach that was as much a part of their personal lives as he was. He worked at it. The guy is amazing. He’s been a part of my life since 1972. He’s been influencing me since I was a 17-year-old kid, and I’m 61. He was like a father to me. There is going to be so many guys who are devastated over this because he was that big a part of their lives. He is special. ”
Paul Gustafson, organizational behavior guru, offensive lineman
"LaVell was a 'pioneer in management thinking.' He had a management philosophy that was uncommon at the time. He stated to the team what principles were important to the team and held us accountable for them. One of his management principles was to hire the best coordinators and position coaches and let them do what they do best within a strategy that he oversaw. He was a strategist who knew BYU's need to be unique in how it played, so he went out and hired Dewey Warren and said let's learn to throw the ball better than anyone else and then recruited Gary Shiede from a Juco in northern Cal, and the rest is history. One of his unique designs was to have a player representative from each of the position groups meet with him and council on items relevant to the team. He was extremely special to me because he let me walk on as a returned missionary in a time when there was only one or two returned missionaries on the whole team in 1972."
Shirley Johnson, retired longtime football office secretary
"My relationship with LaVell was so rich and deep, it is hard to express in words. After helping LaVell and Norm Chow with their dissertations, LaVell invited me to come to football as his personal assistant. Being an avid football fan already, I jumped at the chance. He was the greatest boss (I was spoiled), a wonderful example, and the dearest of friends. I will really miss him, his wit, his spirit and his sincere caring."
Tim McTyer, starting cornerback on the 1996 Cotton Bowl champion team:
“The one thing that sticks out to me is the (recruiting) visit I got from LaVell and how much that meant to me. I didn’t know much about the environment and the mystique of BYU. To have him come to where I lived (in southern California), showed how much he was interested in me. Coach (Brian) Mitchell and Coach (DeWayne) Walker had a lot to do with it. LaVell kind of sold it up. It was good to have an African-American coach there but it was the way LaVell talked with me and my mom. He was always calm. Throughout the years at BYU, we understood the body language — the arms folded, the no smile. I got to see the smile a lot because I would stay in his office a lot and joke around with him. I know the smile side, when the frown turns around, and when the arms become unfolded. It was good to come back (to BYU) on the 20th reunion of the ’96 team last summer. It was good to see him and talk to him one last time. Some players wondered if LaVell would remember us. But he remembered who I was and the frown went away and his arms let down. It saw the old LaVell one more time. I’m grateful for that. BYU, and college football, lost a good guy.”
Trevor Matich, who played center on BYU's 1984 national championship team, on LaVell Edwards' passing
“It feels like losing a father because in a lot of ways, it is like losing a father. I was raised primarily by a divorced mother. There was a scoutmaster that was my first real father figure in Sacramento. Then I got to BYU and it became LaVell and my offensive line coaches. LaVell presided over the whole thing. Losing LaVell feels like losing a father. I looked to him in that way and he behaved in that way. A father loves his children. LaVell loved his players like a father loves his children. You felt that. And you didn’t even realize how much it mattered at the time. The wins, the trophies and championships are important because it’s hard to win at such a hard level with so much consistency like LaVell did. You look back now and you realize how much LaVell helped you to grow up in the right way. That, to me, is his real legacy.”
“He had such an extraordinary impact on so many people on a personal, individual level. So many who had never met him thought of him as part of their family. He stayed in one place for so long and he had opportunities to go to bigger-name colleges and he chose to stay at BYU. Because of that, people who never met him feel like they know him.”
Hema Heimuli, BYU running back 1991-1995
“My brother (Lakei) was part of the first wave of Polynesians that came to BYU. I remember LaVell coming to recruit my brother. He understood the Polynesian culture. He knew how to recruit Polynesians. He came to our humble house in Hawaii and he told my dad, ‘I will make sure your son graduates.’ That’s all my dad needed to hear. That’s the reason why most Polynesians came to America, to get an education. LaVell was way ahead of his time. He saw the potential of Polynesians in football and he went after them. He knew what we valued most. I’ll never forget his leadership. He was amazing that way. For a living, I work with organizations and leadership. LaVell’s idea of creating a vision, hiring the right people and letting them do their jobs, that was the formula of success that people to this day don’t understand. That’s how he led. I’m still baffled by how ahead of his time he was in that regard. He was truly a visionary leader, bringing in a passing offense. He knew how BYU could compete. He was a visionary with the West Coast Offense and with Polynesians.”
Ryan Hancock, former quarterback
"Lavell was in town for the 1990 East-West Shrine game and with it being hot recruiting season he asked to visit me at my home, so we invited him to eat dinner at our house. To me and my parent's surprise, he asked if he could bring his wife along. Needless to say, my parents were absolutely impressed with the way he interacted with and treated Patti. He didn't know this at the time, but I was sold on BYU well before as a 13-year-old in the stands at the '84 Holiday Bowl, and meeting him in person solidified my decision. Apparently, he also loved my mom's chicken enchiladas. Every time our paths crossed over the years, he asked how my mom and dad were doing, and complemented my mom's cooking."
Derwin Gray, pastor, former BYU defensive back
"I would not be the man I am if not for Coach Edwards. He was a remarkable coach, one of the best, however, his greatness as a coach is only surpassed by his love for his players. He was a beautiful human being."
Sports community reacts to Twitter
As news of legendary BYU head football coach LaVell Edwards' death spread on Thursday, notable figures from throughout the country remembered him on Twitter.4 comments on this story
A number of individuals more closely connected with Edwards over the years did as well, from Cougar athletic director Tom Holmoe to a bevy of men who played for him over the years.
Current head coach Kalani Sitake released a statement concerning Edwards' death, and a video of the two men embracing in both their final games (tweeted when Sitake was hired last year) before Sitake graduated and Edwards retired spread.
A bevy of Edwards' former players also reflected on the legacy the longtime coach created.