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Tributes pour in for BYU coach

Counterparts call his retirement a loss for the game of football

SHARE Tributes pour in for BYU coach

His peers, shocked as they were, all had the same reactions, considering LaVell Edwards' imminent retirement a loss for the game, calling him one of the giants in college football and even a better person than he is a football coach.

But Southern Utah coach C. Ray Gregory says Edwards, despite the accolades, still doesn't get the credit he deserves in Utah, because people have been asking for years when Edwards might retire.

"If he'd have been in the South," said Gregory, who has coached in Georgia and Mississippi and knows that Southerners treat football teams like royalty, "they'd have named a highway after him and let him coach two years after he died.

"He's been a class act his whole career."

"If he's happy and this is his decision, I'm happy for him," said Utah coach Ron McBride.

"I don't think anyone is irreplaceable," McBride said, "but he's as close as you can be to being irreplaceable. He's a role model for what BYU stands for, what the (LDS) Church stands for in all the things he does."

McBride — Edwards' "buddy" from the 34-31 bank commercials after the 1993 and 1994 Ute victories over the Cougars — made sure to get in some of those references that he knows are uncomfortable for the BYU coach.

"It was the most fun I had with him," said McBride, who will miss Edwards' dry humor and the banter that almost always arose when the two were together, either about which one dresses better or about the "buddy" commercials.

"That was the first year we beat them in 20,000 years, and every day he had to go through 18,000 takes of 34-31," McBride said. "Like, the guy had won like 17 out of 19 (against Utah) or something, and he had to suck it up every day and say '34-31.' So it was good for a few laughs."

And good for the Utah-BYU rivalry, which seemed to be humanized by the bond between the state's two highest-profile coaches who are rivals on the field. As McBride says, it's OK to dislike BYU, but no one can feel animosity toward Edwards.

Weber State coach Jerry Graybeal did feel a little terror over Edwards' famed stone-face "stern look" when he first started coaching in the state. Graybeal was delighted, and maybe a bit relieved, to find Edwards the exact opposite of his game face.

"He was very supportive of me and went out of his way to talk small-college football," said Graybeal, who shares Edwards' love of golf. "He is just a wonderful person first, and his college record stands alone."

Utah State coach Mick Dennehy, just getting ready to start his first season with the Aggies, says he has "mixed emotions. I am real happy for him — he's ready to go on to the next place."

But Dennehy also is disappointed. "I was personally hoping to get to know him a little bit better. The profession will miss him," he said.

Dennehy notes that Edwards is a USU alum. "All the old-timers up here talk about him," Dennehy said. "He's a good guy, and you just hate to see good guys go."

Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham, who played for Edwards at BYU, says the legendary coach changed his life in his first day of practice with the Cougars. Whittingham was a freshman running back getting hammered by senior linebackers so hard he questioned his ability to play. That day, Edwards told Whittingham he had a future. "That's my most vivid memory. Things seemed to get better from that point on," Whittingham said.

Whittingham won't say he'd apply to replace Edwards, but he says if someone from BYU offered him the position, he'd surely think about it.

Fellow Mountain West Conference coaches feel relief that they won't have to face Edwards many more times but remorse that he'll soon be gone.

"I'll miss the competition against him, even though I've been on the short end a number of times, just like most everyone else that has played against BYU," said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry. "He's just such a class person, and he'll certainly be missed in this conference and in our meetings, because he brought a lot of humor and good common sense.

"This is a sad day for college football. He is certainly one of the giants of coaching in college football."

San Diego State coach Ted Tollner, who worked for Edwards at BYU for one year, tutoring quarterback Jim McMahon, said that season was a "real special thing" and called Edwards "one of the real exceptions in our profession. He's given a great deal to football, and it's time for him to enjoy some other things. So I'm happy for him, but the profession will miss him because he's a very unique individual."

Colorado State's Sonny Lubick, who tied with Edwards' Cougars and McBride's Utes for the first Mountain West Conference championship last year, calls Edwards "one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football." And Lubick said everyone gauges themselves by BYU.

"When you are trying to compete in this league against BYU, you always as a coach set the standard by looking at BYU," he said. "They have been and continue to be the measuring stick for everyone else."

E-MAIL: lham@desnews.com