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Pella to leave Y. but won’t retire

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Former Utah State head coach Chris Pella always wondered how LaVell Edwards kept winning football games when his player base was primarily a bunch of "goody-goody" Mormon kids.

Pella got a first-hand glimpse at the formula when Edwards hired Pella as his recruiting coordinator, kicker and tight end coach some 17 years ago after Pella was fired by USU.

In seasons since, Pella stood on the sidelines and witnessed Cougar wins over Notre Dame, Penn State, Miami, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Washington. He understood.

"It's the character of the athletes in the program; their willingness to play for more than wins and losses but for who they are and what they represent," Pella said.

Sounds cheesy as a brick of Swiss, but it's the key Pella discovered.

Three days after BYU plays Georgia Tech to open this season, Pella's BYU experience will end. His contract as an athletic department aide ends Aug. 31. He hasn't coached since Edwards retired in 2000. His bio is not included in this year's football media guide.

"It's time to refocus my career. I'm going to get back into coaching. I'll attend some NFL camps and use my college and NFL contacts to get back in the game."

Pella is serious about his find at BYU. "It's absolutely the winning difference. There's physically been too many games when if you looked at BYU's roster and an opponent's roster there's no way we should have been in the game — like Miami in 1990."

Pella's familiar face, his graying late '50s Fabian haircut and his halfback gait, will be missed in Provo. He's a guy who makes friends easily, and his imprint into Cougar lore will not soon fade away.

Pella, Utah football experts will tell you, has spent a lifetime spinning a web, a virtual labyrinth of connections and relationships across the land, especially in Intermountain recruiting holes in California, Arizona, Idaho and Utah.

Follow just one of those spider legs and you understand. At USU Pella recruited Jim McMahon at Roy High, a quarterback Pella says remains the most accurate passer he's ever seen. Pella didn't get McMahon but he did sign his receiver, Freddie Fernandez, now coaching Northridge to state titles. At Northridge BYU found current tight end potential star Daniel Coates and teammate Dan Van Sweden. Pella was kind of a godfather to current offensive line star Jake Kuresa's father, David. Get the picture?

In Pella's rear view mirror is a lifetime of football memories in Provo.

One of the biggest highlights is the 1996 Cotton Bowl, a 14-1 season in which his kicker Ethan Pochman proved key in an overtime WAC championship win over Wyoming as did his tight ends Itula Mili and Chad Lewis.

Oh, there was the win over Miami in Provo and bowl appearances, including the 31-6 drubbing of a down-and-out Oklahoma team in the 1994 Copper Bowl. But he also remembers being there at Notre Dame when Jamal Willis and John Walsh delivered a win over Lou Holtz and the Fighting Irish. Somebody pinch him.

Who does he think was the greatest football player in Provo? "I can't pass on Ty Detmer, he had it all, including all the tangibles."

Pella remembers Edwards sending him to San Antonio's Southwest High to inspect Detmer the summer after he committed to BYU following his junior year.

"See if the kid can play for us," said Edwards, who worried about Detmer's size and frame.

Pella went to Texas to inspect the Lone Star State's Player of the Year. "Quarterbacks have the easiest job in the world — find the open man and deliver him the ball. This guy found every open guy and got them the ball. He is one of the greatest football players I've ever known."

Pella takes with him knowledge that his men had a part in many key games. His kickers came through. Jason Chaffetz kicked a key field goal in a win over Colorado in the Freedom Bowl, David Lauder kicked two field goals in the win at Notre Dame, and Owen Pochman kicked two in a win over Utah in 1999 in Provo.

It was Earl Kaufmann's injury in 1991 that forced Pella to send in walkon Keith Lever to tie San Diego State 52-52 in one of the craziest non-defensive battles in NCAA history.

Before arriving in Provo, Pella's 1984 Aggies had LaVell Edwards' squad on the ropes several times and even knocked quarterback Robbie Bosco out of the game. "I had a feeling that BYU was headed for a national championship," jokes Pella, "so we eased up on them a little."

Pella always teases Edwards about that game — an almost stumble en route to fame.

Memories with Pella, the kid from Box Elder High and Aggieville. This Labor Day, his BYU chapter ends.

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com