PROVO, Utah — Legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards may be retiring soon, but it isn't likely he will be taking bids from rocking chair or porch swing manufacturers. Spending time swaying back and forth while watching his life pass by is not in his plans, nor in the plans of his wife, Patti, or the plans of the university he has been with for four decades.
Coach Edwards made it official during a press conference Thursday afternoon, Aug. 17, that he will retire as BYU's head football coach at the end of the 2000 season. But while a finite end was identified to a career that seemed might go on forever, plans were unveiled that will keep the soon-to-be 70-year-old Edwards up and running.
BYU President Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy indicated during his remarks at the press conference that Coach Edwards has been recruited to assist the school with fund-raising. Sister Edwards said in an interview that her husband will now be attending more of their grandchildren's ball games and other activities and that, in time, they hope to serve a Church mission together.
Coach Edwards was anxious to keep the press conference from turning into a personal tribute, choosing to "get this taken care of and then get the focus back on the team and on our preparation."
Proceeding on the assumption that everyone in attendance already knew the purpose of the press conference, Coach Edwards spoke casually, never actually making a definitive statement about retiring. He was matter-of-fact throughout most of the session, the only trace of emotion coming when he began speaking about his assistant coaches.
Facing a large throng of media representatives, assistant coaches, players and others in the Cougar Room under Cougar Stadium, Coach Edwards said he had decided by last spring that this would be his last season. The timing of the announcement was a tough decision.
"All I wanted to do was play it out, and when it was time to go, hang it up and take off and settle into the sunset somewhere," said the coach who became a BYU assistant in 1962 and head coach in 1972. But he knew that he would face the inevitable questions all season concerning whether or not he should retire and when. He didn't want to face those questions since he had already decided.
President Bateman thought the time was right for the announcement for two reasons. First, "we wanted to give people a chance to honor him and not just have him fade into the sunset... We wanted people this year to pay their respects to this great man."
Second, as young football players considered Brigham Young University a possible place to continue their careers, Coach Edwards would have to be honest with them about whether or not he would be continuing as coach.
As for Coach Edwards' continued association with BYU, President Bateman said: "He will be working with us to help build an athletic endowment at the university that will give us freedom to do a number of things that we want to do. Sports at this university are very important. They help build a community, they help build friends across the nation."
President Bateman anticipated that the coach would be part of the endowment team for at least a year.
Sister Edwards, who is looking forward to serving a mission with her husband, was honored. Her husband pointed out what a great support she has been for him. President Bateman noted that every game and every player meant as much to her as to her husband over the years.
She was quick to say in an interview that her husband always had his priorities straight, putting family and Church first. He was able to be a good husband and father, serve in many Church callings including bishop, become one of the great college coaches of all time and do many other things because "he is a man of integrity."
President Bateman referred to him during an interview as "one of the great football coaches in America and a great man" who has had an enormous positive influence on thousands of young men, members of the Church and others, who moved through his program.
"This is a man among men," President Bateman added. "He really is a wise, good person inside. Someone said the other day that he is a man with no enemies because he is so kind and respectful of other people. He has brought credit to the university."
Coach Edwards claimed he didn't want to do a lot of reminiscing at the press conference, but during a question-and-answer session he did recall two particular games.
The first was his 1974 team's 21-18 win over Arizona State, the cream of the WAC crop, in Cougar Stadium. That win sent the Cougars to the Fiesta Bowl, their first bowl game ever.
The second game was the 38-37 loss to Indiana in the 1979 Holiday Bowl. "It was the first time we'd ever gone undefeated [during the regular season], the first time we'd ever been ranked in the top 10," he said. "That was a very good football team playing the fourth-place team from the Big 10 and we did everything under the sun to self destruct that night and still had a chance to win it in the end."
But then he noted that over the next several years, "not very many teams won more games than we did." That stretch included the 1984 13-0 national championship season.
He said he will let others determine what his legacy will be, but he was happy with one thing. When he arrived at BYU, the Cougars played in a 10,000-seat stadium that seldom was filled. He will leave behind a 65,000-seat stadium that is usually filled on game days which are complete with the same daylong activities he saw at other prominent universities over the years.
He concluded: "I like the fact that football is important at BYU. I don't see any reason why that is going to change."