Before LaVell Edwards was promoted to head coach, BYU ran a slogging run-first offense that yielded mediocre or worse records.
Under Edwards, dizzying passing numbers became the norm, and college football fans stayed in front of their TVs late Saturday nights from the 1970s to ’90s to see just how many points the Cougars could score.
Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Ty Detmer and other quarterbacks flourished, and the Cougars grew in prominence, even being voted national champions in 1984.
Edwards, the humble and devout Mormon who won 257 games at the Utah school over 29 seasons, died Thursday at 86. The school confirmed his death but disclosed no other details.
“LaVell was one of the best friends that I had in the coaching world,” said Tom Osborne, the retired national championship-winning Nebraska coach whose triple-option offense was the polar opposite of Edwards’ dynamic passing attack. “He had a great sense of humor and was always well-grounded and fun to be around.
“BYU had a distinct identity under LaVell. They were a passing team before it became stylish, but many did not realize that they had a very good running game as well.”
Edwards, who retired in 2000, had a record of 257-101-3, the seventh-most wins in FBS history. His teams won or shared 19 conference titles and played in 22 bowl games. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
“He had an impact on so many lives, and not just as coach but as a person,” Cougars coach Kalani Sitake said. “So many people — players, coaches, fans, the entire BYU family, coaching colleagues and opponents — will tell you they are a better person because of him, and I’m definitely one of them. We all love LaVell and appreciate the amazing legacy he leaves with each of us.”
Edwards became BYU’s head coach in 1972, taking over a program that had just 14 winning seasons in 49 years. BYU won 10 straight Western Athletic Conference titles from 1976-85 and went to 17 consecutive bowls from 1978-94.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer tweeted that Edwards was a “good friend,” adding that he was a “phenomenal coach but even better person.”
With Edwards in charge the Cougars put on an offensive show almost every week. They led the nation in passing eight times from 1976-85 and again in 1990 with Detmer, who won the Heisman Trophy. The Robbie Bosco-led 1984 team went 13-0 and was voted national champion after beating Michigan in the Holiday Bowl.
Edwards received national coach of the year awards in 1979 and ‘84.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said Edwards “came into my life, and the life of many others, at just the right time.”
“LaVell had a pure heart,” he added. “He was the dream coach of every parent. His example will forever be with me and I will strive to live a life of love as he always did.”
Edwards grew up in Orem, Utah, and was the eighth of 14 children. He was an all-conference lineman at Utah State before serving two years in the Army. He joined the BYU football staff in 1962 and was the team’s defensive coordinator when he was promoted to head coach.
“Coach Edwards was a gentle giant of the gridiron — a humble yet confident leader who guided the BYU football program through decades of unprecedented success,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “He was a champion both on and off the field. For thousands of athletes and millions of fans across the nation, LaVell was far more than a steady presence on the sideline. He was a visionary leader, a father figure, and a trusted friend.”
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Patti, and three children.