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LaVell Edwards reflects on roots, relationships

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During his Tuesday flight to South Bend, Ind., to be introduced as one of 14 new inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame, retired BYU head coach LaVell Edwards reflected not on a 29-year tenure that included 257 victories and a national championship but rather on roots and relationships.

He recalled being reared on a small farm in Orem, the eighth of 14 children and the first to eventually attend college. And he remembered the influence and impact of his Lincoln High football coach.

"And at that time, I decided I wanted to be a football coach," he said.

Fast forward to Tuesday's news conference, where he and 13 others were announced as the Hall's Class of 2004, and Edwards was still pondering his career — not in terms of performance or production but rather of people.

"I rarely think of a game, of a championship," he said. "I think more about the relationships, I think more about the people."

And his greatest personal accomplishment? "That I did win enough games that I stayed employed," he quipped, adding in a more serious tone, "and that I was able to do the things that I wanted to do — to coach and to work with people."

He reflected on his eight years coaching prep football in Salt Lake City with limited success. And when Hal Mitchell — hired by BYU as its head coach in 1961 — promised to bring in the single-wing offensive formation, Edwards was a perfect fit because "I was the only Mormon running the single wing in all of football."

Edwards lasted through Mitchell's three years at BYU as well as the eight-year tenure of Tommy Hudspetch, during which he was primarily a defensive coach.

He was appointed the Cougars' head coach going into the 1972 season, mindful that his predecessors in Provo averaged three wins a year in the previous five decades.

"It wasn't 'if' I was going to be fired, it was a matter of 'when,' " Edwards said.

Never fired, Edwards instead retired after 29 seasons, a national championship, 21 league titles, 22 bowl games, 257 career victories and 103,562 passing yards by his aerial-minded Cougar teams.

"It is overwhelming," said Edwards of Tuesday's honor. "I never really ever dreamed anything like this would ever happen. I'm humbled by this and want to thank everyone who has made this possible."

Besides Edwards, the College Football Hall of Fame's newest additions include 12 players (see accompanying story) and fellow coach George Welsh, who split time between Navy and Virginia from 1973 to 2000 and faced his now-Fame-ous peer several times.

"I didn't like to play LaVell," Welsh said at Tuesday's event. "I figured you had to score 45 points to win — if you didn't, you may not have a chance to win."

"I don't know why he would say that — he beat me nearly every time we played," said Edwards, mindful of BYU's 23-16 loss to Navy in the inaugural Holiday Bowl in 1978 and the Cougars' 22-16 loss to Virginia in the 1987 All-American Bowl.

"He came out to Provo one year, and the officials he brought out with him robbed us," quipped Edwards of Welsh's 45-40 victory in 1999 with Virginia. "But then we went out to Charlottesville the next year and took our officials and beat them."

Tuesday's event also allowed Edwards to field several questions, including a personal favorite of all his standout Cougar quarterbacks and his take of the Bowl Championship Series and the possibility of a national playoff system.

True to form, Edwards declined to name his No. 1 BYU quarterback, saying "not even in my own mind have I come up with just one."

He added: "They're all different, with different styles, but they were all great leaders . . . and in my last few years, I would have loved to have had any one of them."

Of the current state of postseason college football, Edwards proclaimed, "I'm not a fan of the BCS because BYU is not a part of it — it's a personal thing."

He said BYU's 1984 national championship was the result of several factors: the Cougars going undefeated and all other college powerhouses — except Washington — suffering at least two losses.

Edwards mentioned that BYU's championship squad had recently been tabulated by modern-day BCS formulas.

"Our undefeated team in 1984 certainly wouldn't have been in the mix," he said. "I'm thankful we didn't have the BCS in those days."

E-mail: taylor@desnews.com