About 36 years ago, I was taking a newswriting class at Brigham Young University and decided I wanted to do a story on head football coach LaVell Edwards.
After nearly 10 years as head football coach, he was starting to be a big deal on campus — and also a big deal in college football.
His mild manner and candidness in answering questions from a neophyte reporter was something I remember. I was extremely comfortable in his presence.
“You can use that cassette tape recorder right there if you want,” he said as I settled into a seat next to his desk.
I was more of a fan than an objective journalist. My teacher would be the only one who would see the story.
I was so much of a fan that at the end of the interview, I suggested BYU should recruit more non-LDS players who could make the program even better.
“Well, we do want to recruit players with talent regardless of religious affiliation,” he said.
Toward the end of the interview, I tried to review with him some of the national awards he had received. I mentioned the 1979 Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year award after the team finished 11-1. He sort of shrugged it off, and seemed to care less that he had won an award.
Edwards took BYU to a higher level, but my allegiance toward the football team started long before he was named head coach in 1972.
My uncle started to take me to games before then as a reward for helping him haul hay. BYU was coached by Tommy Hudspeth. Back then, the stadium was called Cougar Stadium with a capacity of 30,000. It seemed like most games drew about 20,000 people.
Tickets were cheap. I would mostly run around the stands with my cousin, and one time we got into trouble with security for dropping hot dog wrappers on people from the top of the stands. If BYU won four or five games a season, it was a big success.
Edwards took over in 1972 and the number of victories started to climb.
While I was in Australia on an LDS mission, my uncle sent me newspaper clippings about the team’s victories and a quarterback named Marc Wilson who led the nation in passing.
Under Edwards, BYU became this pass-happy football team. Sometimes I couldn’t figure out exactly what Edwards did during a game except cross his arms and watch. He left all the offensive wizardry to offensive coordinators like Doug Scovil, Mike Holmgren and Norm Chow. Some years BYU even had a solid defense. During the Cougars’ one undefeated season, they were fourth in the nation for fewest points allowed and second in the nation in scoring points.
When BYU started to participate regularly in the Holiday Bowl, my father was delighted because the game was held in San Diego. He liked to travel to southern California for nearly any reason. We attended the first Holiday Bowl in 1978. BYU lost 23-16 to Navy.
Later, I went back to Holiday Bowls with friends. We witnessed the 1980 46-45 victory over SMU; a1983 BYU victory over Missouri 21-17; and a 1984 BYU victory over Michigan 24-17. BYU finished first in the nation that year according to the Associated Press poll.
In 1982, the 30,000 seat stadium was expanded to 65,000. In 2000, the stadium was named LaVell Edwards Stadium. The coach was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame in 2004.
Newspaper stories about Edwards since his death on Dec. 29, 2016, have focused on his ability to help young people, his friendliness and humor. The football honors and awards have been more of an addendum.
I’m sure he appreciated the football accolades, but other things seemed much more important to Edwards.
I learned that trait about him 36 years ago.