LaVell Edwards was born on October 11, 1930 on a small farm about 5 miles from Brigham Young University. The eighth of 14 children, LaVell graduated from Lincoln High School in Orem where he was an all-state center. He attended Utah State University, where he was an all-conference lineman before serving a two-year commitment in the Army. LaVell was the head football coach at Granite High School from 1954-1962. In 1962 he was hired by BYU coach Hal Mitchell as an assistant coach managing the defensive line.
In 1972, Edwards assumed command of a BYU program that had won just 173 games over 49 seasons, including just 14 winning seasons. The Cougars had never been to a bowl game and had just one conference championship prior to Edwards’ promotion to head coach.
Undaunted by the formidable rebuilding task that lay ahead, Edwards wasted little time in transforming BYU into a national power, pioneering an aggressive and innovative passing attack that led BYU to conference titles in 19 of 29 seasons and an overall record of 257-101-3.
In his first season as the head coach, he gave BYU fans a glimpse of the future. Edwards led the Cougars to a 7-4 overall record, including a 16-7 win over in-state rival Utah. Just two seasons later, Edwards had the team rolling. The Cougars won the WAC Championship after a 48-20 victory over the Utes and accepted an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl -- the team's first-ever bowl appearance, starting a run of 22 bowls in 29 years. The 1974 season turned out to be the first of 27 straight non-losing seasons.
"As a youngster in Orem, I used to follow BYU football regularly, often while perched in one of the orchard trees adjoining the practice field. My ambition was to be a coach, and that youthful dream is now a reality." - LaVell Edwards
"When I was appointed head football coach in 1972, I decided to approach my role as a coach much the same as I did as a bishop, delegating responsibility to my assistants, putting responsibility on the players for self-improvement in all aspects of their lives, and using personal interviews with players to try to give positive reinforcement and encouragement so that they might do their very best and reach their full potential, both on and off the field."
Led by the “Pony Express” running duo of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, SMU controlled the first 56 minutes in the Holiday Bowl and led 45-25 with 4:07 left if the game. From there, Jim McMahon hit Matt Braga for a TD pass. BYU recovered an onside kick and scored on a 1-yard run by Scott Phillips. After the Cougars forced SMU to go three-and-out, Bill Schoepflin blocked a punt. With three seconds left, McMahon threw a 46-yard “Hail Mary” to Clay Brown, and the extra point was good.
"I’m a firm believer in hard work to reach the desired goals. But I also believe football should be fun; a sport the players, as well as the fans, should enjoy. It doesn’t have to be regimentation or drudgery. The outgrowth of football should be the good, positive values that will benefit a player for the remainder of his life."
With an undefeated season and a national title on the line, BYU found itself trailing Michigan 17-10 with 14:14 left in the Holiday Bowl. However, the Cougar offense produced an 80-yard drive that culminated in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Robbie Bosco to Glen Kozlowski to knot the score at 17. BYU scored again on a Bosco toss to Kelly Smith with 1:23 left to take the lead. Two plays later, All-American Marv Allen intercepted a pass to clinch the title.
In front of a record crowd of 66,235, BYU knocked off No. 1 Miami to secure its first victory over a top-ranked team. After the Hurricanes took a 21-17 lead early in the third quarter, the Cougars’ defense buckled down, holding Miami scoreless for the final 26:48. Meanwhile quarterback Ty Detmer led BYU to a field goal and a touchdown to complete the comeback. Detmer shredded the Hurricanes’ defense, completing 38 of 54 passes for 406 yards and two touchdowns.
"The goals and successes of my professional life pale in comparison to my personal goals of an eternal family, receiving exaltation and being with the Savior again."
Playing in its first New Year’s Day bowl game, No. 5 BYU faced off against No. 14 Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. At halftime Kansas State led 8-5 thanks to a “Hail Mary” pass on the last play of the first half. The Wildcats led 15-5 after three quarters, but BYU stormed back in the fourth, scoring on consecutive drives to take a 19-15 lead with 3:39 left in the game. K-State drove deep into BYU territory before Omarr Morgan intercepted a pass on the 12-yard line with 0:55 left.
BYU set an NCAA record with 14 victories after winning the Cotton Bowl. BYU finished ranked No. 5 nationally – its highest finish since the 1984 title.
Edwards announced his retirement prior to the 2000 season but BYU would honor him by renaming Cougar Stadium to LaVell Edwards Stadium prior to the final home game of the year on Nov. 18. A banner bearing the new name was unveiled in a pregame ceremony conducted by President Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In LaVell Edwards’ last game, BYU countered an early Utah touchdown with 19 unanswered points to take a 26-10 lead. However, Utah scored 17 straight points to take a one-point lead with less than two minutes remaining. On BYU’s last possession, two clutch catches by Jonathan Pittman and a run by Luke Staley got the Cougars to Utah’s 13. With 23 seconds left in the game, Brandon Doman scored on a 4-yard run.
Edwards finished his storied career with a record of 257-101-3 and was the sixth-winningest coach in major college football history. His 257 victories ranked second all-time for the most wins at the same school.
Known for his stoic sideline demeanor and quick-witted humor, Edwards was once labeled by USA Today as a “national coaching treasure.” Beloved not only in coaching circles and all of Cougar Nation, but especially by the many hundreds of players under his tutelage.
Edwards coached one Heisman Trophy winner, two Outland Trophy recipients, four Davey O’Brien awardees, seven Sammy Baugh Trophy Winners, 31 All-Americans and four College Football Hall of Famers. BYU’s success didn’t come without personal reward for Edwards either. He was named NCAA District 8 Coach of the Year eight times, Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year in 1979 and AFCA National Coach of the Year in 1984.
Following his coaching career, Edwards continued his life of service with a full-time LDS mission with his wife Patti to New York City from 2002-2003. He also served on several committees and boards for various college football awards and governing bodies since his retirement.
"One of our goals was to serve a mission. After that, we want to keep our family together eternally, be of service in whatever way possible, and endure to the end!"
"In my career I have had many wonderful things happen to me, many more than I ever dreamed would ever happen. But I would like for you young brethren especially to know that all that has happened to me in my chosen profession is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the truly important things in my life. The testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ that I have, along with my wife and my family, are my most important possessions."
LaVell Edwards passed away December 29, 2016 at the age of 86 surrounded by his wife Patti and his family. As a tribute to LaVell, BYU left the lights on all night at the stadium that bears his name.